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by Thomas Malthus

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Title: An Essay on the Principle of Population

Author: Thomas Malthus

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This etext was produced by Charles Aldarondo

Thomas Malthus
An Essay on the Principle of Population




The following Essay owes its origin to a conversation with a
friend, on the subject of Mr Godwin's essay on avarice and
profusion, in his Enquirer. The discussion started the general
question of the future improvement of society, and the Author at
first sat down with an intention of merely stating his thoughts
to his friend, upon paper, in a clearer manner than he thought he
could do in conversation. But as the subject opened upon him,
some ideas occurred, which he did not recollect to have met with
before; and as he conceived that every least light, on a topic so
generally interesting, might be received with candour, he
determined to put his thoughts in a form for publication.

The Essay might, undoubtedly, have been rendered much more
complete by a collection of a greater number of facts in
elucidation of the general argument. But a long and almost total
interruption from very particular business, joined to a desire
(perhaps imprudent) of not delaying the publication much beyond
the time that he originally proposed, prevented the Author from
giving to the subject an undivided attention. He presumes,
however, that the facts which he has adduced will be found to
form no inconsiderable evidence for the truth of his opinion
respecting the future improvement of mankind. As the Author
contemplates this opinion at present, little more appears to him
to be necessary than a plain statement, in addition to the most
cursory view of society, to establish it.

It is an obvious truth, which has been taken notice of by
many writers, that population must always be kept down to the
level of the means of subsistence; but no writer that the Author
recollects has inquired particularly into the means by which this
level is effected: and it is a view of these means which forms,
to his mind, the strongest obstacle in the way to any very great
future improvement of society. He hopes it will appear that, in
the discussion of this interesting subject, he is actuated solely
by a love of truth, and not by any prejudices against any
particular set of men, or of opinions. He professes to have read
some of the speculations on the future improvement of society in
a temper very different from a wish to find them visionary, but
he has not acquired that command over his understanding which
would enable him to believe what he wishes, without evidence, or
to refuse his assent to what might be unpleasing, when
accompanied with evidence.

The view which he has given of human life has a melancholy
hue, but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints
from a conviction that they are really in the picture, and not
from a jaundiced eye or an inherent spleen of disposition. The
theory of mind which he has sketched in the two last chapters
accounts to his own understanding in a satisfactory manner for
the existence of most of the evils of life, but whether it will
have the same effect upon others must be left to the judgement of
his readers.

If he should succeed in drawing the attention of more able
men to what he conceives to be the principal difficulty in the
way to the improvement of society and should, in consequence, see
this difficulty removed, even in theory, he will gladly retract
his present opinions and rejoice in a conviction of his error.

                                     7 June 1798


Question stated--Little prospect of a determination of it, from
the enmity of the opposing parties--The principal argument
against the perfectibility of man and of society has never been
fairly answered--Nature of the difficulty arising from
population--Outline of the principal argument of the Essay

The great and unlooked for discoveries that have taken place of
late years in natural philosophy, the increasing diffusion of
general knowledge from the extension of the art of printing, the
ardent and unshackled spirit of inquiry that prevails throughout
the lettered and even unlettered world, the new and extraordinary
lights that have been thrown on political subjects which dazzle
and astonish the understanding, and particularly that tremendous
phenomenon in the political horizon, the French Revolution,
which, like a blazing comet, seems destined either to inspire
with fresh life and vigour, or to scorch up and destroy the
shrinking inhabitants of the earth, have all concurred to lead
many able men into the opinion that we were touching on a period
big with the most important changes, changes that would in some
measure be decisive of the future fate of mankind.

It has been said that the great question is now at issue,
whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated
velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived
improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between
happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an
immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.

Yet, anxiously as every friend of mankind must look forwards
to the termination of this painful suspense, and eagerly as the
inquiring mind would hail every ray of light that might assist
its view into futurity, it is much to be lamented that the
writers on each side of this momentous question still keep far
aloof from each other. Their mutual arguments do not meet with a
candid examination. The question is not brought to rest on fewer
points, and even in theory scarcely seems to be approaching to a

The advocate for the present order of things is apt to treat
the sect of speculative philosophers either as a set of artful
and designing knaves who preach up ardent benevolence and draw
captivating pictures of a happier state of society only the
better to enable them to destroy the present establishments and
to forward their own deep-laid schemes of ambition, or as wild
and mad-headed enthusiasts whose silly speculations and absurd
paradoxes are not worthy the attention of any reasonable man.

The advocate for the perfectibility of man, and of society,
retorts on the defender of establishments a more than equal
contempt. He brands him as the slave of the most miserable and
narrow prejudices; or as the defender of the abuses of civil
society only because he profits by them. He paints him either as
a character who prostitutes his understanding to his interest, or
as one whose powers of mind are not of a size to grasp any thing
great and noble, who cannot see above five yards before him, and
who must therefore be utterly unable to take in the views of the
enlightened benefactor of mankind.

In this unamicable contest the cause of truth cannot but
suffer. The really good arguments on each side of the question
are not allowed to have their proper weight. Each pursues his own
theory, little solicitous to correct or improve it by an
attention to what is advanced by his opponents.

The friend of the present order of things condemns all
political speculations in the gross. He will not even condescend
to examine the grounds from which the perfectibility of society
is inferred. Much less will he give himself the trouble in a fair
and candid manner to attempt an exposition of their fallacy.

The speculative philosopher equally offends against the cause
of truth. With eyes fixed on a happier state of society, the
blessings of which he paints in the most captivating colours, he
allows himself to indulge in the most bitter invectives against
every present establishment, without applying his talents to
consider the best and safest means of removing abuses and without
seeming to be aware of the tremendous obstacles that threaten,
even in theory, to oppose the progress of man towards perfection.

It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory
will always be confirmed by experiment. Yet so much friction, and
so many minute circumstances occur in practice, which it is next
to impossible for the most enlarged and penetrating mind to
foresee, that on few subjects can any theory be pronounced just,
till all the arguments against it have been maturely weighed and
clearly and consistently refuted.

I have read some of the speculations on the perfectibility of
man and of society with great pleasure. I have been warmed and
delighted with the enchanting picture which they hold forth. I
ardently wish for such happy improvements. But I see great, and,
to my understanding, unconquerable difficulties in the way to
them. These difficulties it is my present purpose to state,
declaring, at the same time, that so far from exulting in them,
as a cause of triumph over the friends of innovation, nothing
would give me greater pleasure than to see them completely

The most important argument that I shall adduce is certainly
not new. The principles on which it depends have been explained
in part by Hume, and more at large by Dr Adam Smith. It has been
advanced and applied to the present subject, though not with its
proper weight, or in the most forcible point of view, by Mr
Wallace, and it may probably have been stated by many writers
that I have never met with. I should certainly therefore not
think of advancing it again, though I mean to place it in a point
of view in some degree different from any that I have hitherto
seen, if it had ever been fairly and satisfactorily answered.

The cause of this neglect on the part of the advocates for
the perfectibility of mankind is not easily accounted for. I
cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I
am unwilling to doubt their candour. To my understanding, and
probably to that of most others, the difficulty appears
insurmountable. Yet these men of acknowledged ability and
penetration scarcely deign to notice it, and hold on their course
in such speculations with unabated ardour and undiminished
confidence. I have certainly no right to say that they purposely
shut their eyes to such arguments. I ought rather to doubt the
validity of them, when neglected by such men, however forcibly
their truth may strike my own mind. Yet in this respect it must
be acknowledged that we are all of us too prone to err. If I saw
a glass of wine repeatedly presented to a man, and he took no
notice of it, I should be apt to think that he was blind or
uncivil. A juster philosophy might teach me rather to think that
my eyes deceived me and that the offer was not really what I
conceived it to be.

In entering upon the argument I must premise that I put out
of the question, at present, all mere conjectures, that is, all
suppositions, the probable realization of which cannot be
inferred upon any just philosophical grounds. A writer may tell
me that he thinks man will ultimately become an ostrich. I cannot
properly contradict him. But before he can expect to bring any
reasonable person over to his opinion, he ought to shew that the
necks of mankind have been gradually elongating, that the lips
have grown harder and more prominent, that the legs and feet are
daily altering their shape, and that the hair is beginning to
change into stubs of feathers. And till the probability of so
wonderful a conversion can be shewn, it is surely lost time and
lost eloquence to expatiate on the happiness of man in such a
state; to describe his powers, both of running and flying, to
paint him in a condition where all narrow luxuries would be
contemned, where he would be employed only in collecting the
necessaries of life, and where, consequently, each man's share of
labour would be light, and his portion of leisure ample.

I think I may fairly make two postulata.

First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.

Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and
will remain nearly in its present state.

These two laws, ever since we have had any knowledge of
mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature, and, as we
have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right
to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are,
without an immediate act of power in that Being who first
arranged the system of the universe, and for the advantage of his
creatures, still executes, according to fixed laws, all its
various operations.

I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth
man will ultimately be able to live without food. But Mr Godwin
has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be
extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work a
deviation into the land of conjecture, I will not dwell longer
upon it at present than to say that the best arguments for the
perfectibility of man are drawn from a contemplation of the great
progress that he has already made from the savage state and the
difficulty of saying where he is to stop. But towards the
extinction of the passion between the sexes, no progress whatever
has hitherto been made. It appears to exist in as much force at
present as it did two thousand or four thousand years ago. There
are individual exceptions now as there always have been. But, as
these exceptions do not appear to increase in number, it would
surely be a very unphilosophical mode of arguing to infer, merely
from the existence of an exception, that the exception would, in
time, become the rule, and the rule the exception.

Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power
of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth
to produce subsistence for man.

Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.
Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight
acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first
power in comparison of the second.

By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the
life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept

This implies a strong and constantly operating check on
population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty
must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a
large portion of mankind.

Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, nature has
scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and
liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room and
the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence
contained in this spot of earth, with ample food, and ample room
to expand in, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a
few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious all pervading law
of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race
of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great
restrictive law. And the race of man cannot, by any efforts of
reason, escape from it. Among plants and animals its effects are
waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind,
misery and vice. The former, misery, is an absolutely necessary
consequence of it. Vice is a highly probable consequence, and we
therefore see it abundantly prevail, but it ought not, perhaps,
to be called an absolutely necessary consequence. The ordeal of
virtue is to resist all temptation to evil.

This natural inequality of the two powers of population and
of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature
which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great
difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way to the
perfectibility of society. All other arguments are of slight and
subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by
which man can escape from the weight of this law which pervades
all animated nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulations
in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for
a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive
against the possible existence of a society, all the members of
which should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure;
and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for
themselves and families.

Consequently, if the premises are just, the argument is
conclusive against the perfectibility of the mass of mankind.

I have thus sketched the general outline of the argument, but
I will examine it more particularly, and I think it will be found
that experience, the true source and foundation of all knowledge,
invariably confirms its truth.


The different ratio in which population and food increase--The
necessary effects of these different ratios of increase--
Oscillation produced by them in the condition of the lower
classes of society--Reasons why this oscillation has not been so
much observed as might be expected--Three propositions on which
the general argument of the Essay depends--The different states
in which mankind have been known to exist proposed to be examined
with reference to these three propositions.

I said that population, when unchecked, increased in a
geometrical ratio, and subsistence for man in an arithmetical

Let us examine whether this position be just. I think it will
be allowed, that no state has hitherto existed (at least that we
have any account of) where the manners were so pure and simple,
and the means of subsistence so abundant, that no check whatever
has existed to early marriages, among the lower classes, from a
fear of not providing well for their families, or among the
higher classes, from a fear of lowering their condition in life.
Consequently in no state that we have yet known has the power of
population been left to exert itself with perfect freedom.

Whether the law of marriage be instituted or not, the dictate
of nature and virtue seems to be an early attachment to one
woman. Supposing a liberty of changing in the case of an
unfortunate choice, this liberty would not affect population till
it arose to a height greatly vicious; and we are now supposing
the existence of a society where vice is scarcely known.

In a state therefore of great equality and virtue, where pure
and simple manners prevailed, and where the means of subsistence
were so abundant that no part of the society could have any fears
about providing amply for a family, the power of population being
left to exert itself unchecked, the increase of the human species
would evidently be much greater than any increase that has been
hitherto known.

In the United States of America, where the means of
subsistence have been more ample, the manners of the people more
pure, and consequently the checks to early marriages fewer, than
in any of the modern states of Europe, the population has been
found to double itself in twenty-five years.

This ratio of increase, though short of the utmost power of
population, yet as the result of actual experience, we will take
as our rule, and say, that population, when unchecked, goes on
doubling itself every twenty-five years or increases in a
geometrical ratio.

Let us now take any spot of earth, this Island for instance,
and see in what ratio the subsistence it affords can be supposed
to increase. We will begin with it under its present state of

If I allow that by the best possible policy, by breaking up
more land and by great encouragements to agriculture, the produce
of this Island may be doubled in the first twenty-five years, I
think it will be allowing as much as any person can well demand.

In the next twenty-five years, it is impossible to suppose
that the produce could be quadrupled. It would be contrary to all
our knowledge of the qualities of land. The very utmost that we
can conceive, is, that the increase in the second twenty-five
years might equal the present produce. Let us then take this for
our rule, though certainly far beyond the truth, and allow that,
by great exertion, the whole produce of the Island might be
increased every twenty-five years, by a quantity of subsistence
equal to what it at present produces. The most enthusiastic
speculator cannot suppose a greater increase than this. In a few
centuries it would make every acre of land in the Island like a

Yet this ratio of increase is evidently arithmetical.

It may be fairly said, therefore, that the means of
subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio. Let us now bring
the effects of these two ratios together.

The population of the Island is computed to be about seven
millions, and we will suppose the present produce equal to the
support of such a number. In the first twenty-five years the
population would be fourteen millions, and the food being also
doubled, the means of subsistence would be equal to this
increase. In the next twenty-five years the population would be
twenty-eight millions, and the means of subsistence only equal to
the support of twenty-one millions. In the next period, the
population would be fifty-six millions, and the means of
subsistence just sufficient for half that number. And at the
conclusion of the first century the population would be one
hundred and twelve millions and the means of subsistence only
equal to the support of thirty-five millions, which would leave a
population of seventy-seven millions totally unprovided for.

A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some
kind or other in the country that is deserted. For few persons
will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land,
to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some
strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the
hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are

But to make the argument more general and less interrupted by
the partial views of emigration, let us take the whole earth,
instead of one spot, and suppose that the restraints to
population were universally removed. If the subsistence for man
that the earth affords was to be increased every twenty-five
years by a quantity equal to what the whole world at present
produces, this would allow the power of production in the earth
to be absolutely unlimited, and its ratio of increase much
greater than we can conceive that any possible exertions of
mankind could make it.

Taking the population of the world at any number, a thousand
millions, for instance, the human species would increase in the
ratio of--1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, etc. and
subsistence as--1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. In two
centuries and a quarter, the population would be to the means of
subsistence as 512 to 10: in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and
in two thousand years the difference would be almost
incalculable, though the produce in that time would have
increased to an immense extent.

No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the
earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any
assignable quantity, yet still the power of population being a
power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can
only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of
subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of
necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.

The effects of this check remain now to be considered.

Among plants and animals the view of the subject is simple.
They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of
their species, and this instinct is interrupted by no reasoning
or doubts about providing for their offspring. Wherever therefore
there is liberty, the power of increase is exerted, and the
superabundant effects are repressed afterwards by want of room
and nourishment, which is common to animals and plants, and among
animals by becoming the prey of others.

The effects of this check on man are more complicated.
Impelled to the increase of his species by an equally powerful
instinct, reason interrupts his career and asks him whether he
may not bring beings into the world for whom he cannot provide
the means of subsistence. In a state of equality, this would be
the simple question. In the present state of society, other
considerations occur. Will he not lower his rank in life? Will he
not subject himself to greater difficulties than he at present
feels? Will he not be obliged to labour harder? and if he has a
large family, will his utmost exertions enable him to support
them? May he not see his offspring in rags and misery, and
clamouring for bread that he cannot give them? And may he not be
reduced to the grating necessity of forfeiting his independence,
and of being obliged to the sparing hand of charity for support?

These considerations are calculated to prevent, and certainly
do prevent, a very great number in all civilized nations from
pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one
woman. And this restraint almost necessarily, though not
absolutely so, produces vice. Yet in all societies, even those
that are most vicious, the tendency to a virtuous attachment is
so strong that there is a constant effort towards an increase of
population. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject
the lower classes of the society to distress and to prevent any
great permanent amelioration of their condition.

The way in which, these effects are produced seems to be
this. We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country
just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant
effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most
vicious societies, increases the number of people before the
means of subsistence are increased. The food therefore which
before supported seven millions must now be divided among seven
millions and a half or eight millions. The poor consequently must
live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress.
The number of labourers also being above the proportion of the
work in the market, the price of labour must tend toward a
decrease, while the price of provisions would at the same time
tend to rise. The labourer therefore must work harder to earn the
same as he did before. During this season of distress, the
discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a
family are so great that population is at a stand. In the mean
time the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the
necessity of an increased industry amongst them, encourage
cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up
fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is
already in tillage, till ultimately the means of subsistence
become in the same proportion to the population as at the period
from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being then
again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in
some degree loosened, and the same retrograde and progressive
movements with respect to happiness are repeated.

This sort of oscillation will not be remarked by superficial
observers, and it may be difficult even for the most penetrating
mind to calculate its periods. Yet that in all old states some
such vibration does exist, though from various transverse causes,
in a much less marked, and in a much more irregular manner than I
have described it, no reflecting man who considers the subject
deeply can well doubt.

Many reasons occur why this oscillation has been less
obvious, and less decidedly confirmed by experience, than might
naturally be expected.

One principal reason is that the histories of mankind that we
possess are histories only of the higher classes. We have but few
accounts that can be depended upon of the manners and customs of
that part of mankind where these retrograde and progressive
movements chiefly take place. A satisfactory history of this
kind, on one people, and of one period, would require the
constant and minute attention of an observing mind during a long
life. Some of the objects of inquiry would be, in what proportion
to the number of adults was the number of marriages, to what
extent vicious customs prevailed in consequence of the restraints
upon matrimony, what was the comparative mortality among the
children of the most distressed part of the community and those
who lived rather more at their ease, what were the variations in
the real price of labour, and what were the observable
differences in the state of the lower classes of society with
respect to ease and happiness, at different times during a
certain period.

Such a history would tend greatly to elucidate the manner in
which the constant check upon population acts and would probably
prove the existence of the retrograde and progressive movements
that have been mentioned, though the times of their vibrations
must necessarily be rendered irregular from the operation of many
interrupting causes, such as the introduction or failure of
certain manufactures, a greater or less prevalent spirit of
agricultural enterprise, years of plenty, or years of scarcity,
wars and pestilence, poor laws, the invention of processes for
shortening labour without the proportional extension of the
market for the commodity, and, particularly, the difference
between the nominal and real price of labour, a circumstance
which has perhaps more than any other contributed to conceal this
oscillation from common view.

It very rarely happens that the nominal price of labour
universally falls, but we well know that it frequently remains
the same, while the nominal price of provisions has been
gradually increasing. This is, in effect, a real fall in the
price of labour, and during this period the condition of the
lower orders of the community must gradually grow worse and
worse. But the farmers and capitalists are growing rich from the
real cheapness of labour. Their increased capitals enable them to
employ a greater number of men. Work therefore may be plentiful,
and the price of labour would consequently rise. But the want of
freedom in the market of labour, which occurs more or less in all
communities, either from parish laws, or the more general cause
of the facility of combination among the rich, and its difficulty
among the poor, operates to prevent the price of labour from
rising at the natural period, and keeps it down some time longer;
perhaps till a year of scarcity, when the clamour is too loud and
the necessity too apparent to be resisted.

The true cause of the advance in the price of labour is thus
concealed, and the rich affect to grant it as an act of
compassion and favour to the poor, in consideration of a year of
scarcity, and, when plenty returns, indulge themselves in the
most unreasonable of all complaints, that the price does not
again fall, when a little rejection would shew them that it must
have risen long before but from an unjust conspiracy of their

But though the rich by unfair combinations contribute
frequently to prolong a season of distress among the poor, yet no
possible form of society could prevent the almost constant action
of misery upon a great part of mankind, if in a state of
inequality, and upon all, if all were equal.

The theory on which the truth of this position depends
appears to me so extremely clear that I feel at a loss to
conjecture what part of it can be denied.

That population cannot increase without the means of
subsistence is a proposition so evident that it needs no

That population does invariably increase where there are the
means of subsistence, the history of every people that have ever
existed will abundantly prove.

And that the superior power of population cannot be checked
without producing misery or vice, the ample portion of these too
bitter ingredients in the cup of human life and the continuance
of the physical causes that seem to have produced them bear too
convincing a testimony.

But, in order more fully to ascertain the validity of these
three propositions, let us examine the different states in which
mankind have been known to exist. Even a cursory review will, I
think, be sufficient to convince us that these propositions are
incontrovertible truths.


The savage or hunter state shortly reviewed--The shepherd state,
or the tribes of barbarians that overran the Roman Empire--The
superiority of the power of population to the means of
subsistence--the cause of the great tide of Northern Emigration.

In the rudest state of mankind, in which hunting is the principal
occupation, and the only mode of acquiring food; the means of
subsistence being scattered over a large extent of territory, the
comparative population must necessarily be thin. It is said that
the passion between the sexes is less ardent among the North
American Indians, than among any other race of men. Yet,
notwithstanding this apathy, the effort towards population, even
in this people, seems to be always greater than the means to
support it. This appears, from the comparatively rapid population
that takes place, whenever any of the tribes happen to settle in
some fertile spot, and to draw nourishment from more fruitful
sources than that of hunting; and it has been frequently remarked
that when an Indian family has taken up its abode near any
European settlement, and adopted a more easy and civilized mode of
life, that one woman has reared five, or six, or more children;
though in the savage state it rarely happens that above one or
two in a family grow up to maturity. The same observation has
been made with regard to the Hottentots near the Cape. These
facts prove the superior power of population to the means of
subsistence in nations of hunters, and that this power always
shews itself the moment it is left to act with freedom.

It remains to inquire whether this power can be checked, and
its effects kept equal to the means of subsistence, without vice
or misery.

The North American Indians, considered as a people, cannot
justly be called free and equal. In all the accounts we have of
them, and, indeed, of most other savage nations, the women are
represented as much more completely in a state of slavery to the
men than the poor are to the rich in civilized countries. One
half the nation appears to act as Helots to the other half, and
the misery that checks population falls chiefly, as it always
must do, upon that part whose condition is lowest in the scale of
society. The infancy of man in the simplest state requires
considerable attention, but this necessary attention the women
cannot give, condemned as they are to the inconveniences and
hardships of frequent change of place and to the constant and
unremitting drudgery of preparing every thing for the reception
of their tyrannic lords. These exertions, sometimes during
pregnancy or with children at their backs, must occasion frequent
miscarriages, and prevent any but the most robust infants from
growing to maturity. Add to these hardships of the women the
constant war that prevails among savages, and the necessity which
they frequently labour under of exposing their aged and helpless
parents, and of thus violating the first feelings of nature, and
the picture will not appear very free from the blot of misery. In
estimating the happiness of a savage nation, we must not fix our
eyes only on the warrior in the prime of life: he is one of a
hundred: he is the gentleman, the man of fortune, the chances
have been in his favour and many efforts have failed ere this
fortunate being was produced, whose guardian genius should
preserve him through the numberless dangers with which he would
be surrounded from infancy to manhood. The true points of
comparison between two nations seem to be the ranks in each which
appear nearest to answer to each other. And in this view, I
should compare the warriors in the prime of life with the
gentlemen, and the women, children, and aged, with the lower
classes of the community in civilized states.

May we not then fairly infer from this short review, or
rather, from the accounts that may be referred to of nations of
hunters, that their population is thin from the scarcity of food,
that it would immediately increase if food was in greater plenty,
and that, putting vice out of the question among savages, misery
is the check that represses the superior power of population and
keeps its effects equal to the means of subsistence. Actual
observation and experience tell us that this check, with a few
local and temporary exceptions, is constantly acting now upon all
savage nations, and the theory indicates that it probably acted
with nearly equal strength a thousand years ago, and it may not
be much greater a thousand years hence.

Of the manners and habits that prevail among nations of
shepherds, the next state of mankind, we are even more ignorant
than of the savage state. But that these nations could not escape
the general lot of misery arising from the want of subsistence,
Europe, and all the fairest countries in the world, bear ample
testimony. Want was the goad that drove the Scythian shepherds
from their native haunts, like so many famished wolves in search
of prey. Set in motion by this all powerful cause, clouds of
Barbarians seemed to collect from all points of the northern
hemisphere. Gathering fresh darkness and terror as they rolled
on, the congregated bodies at length obscured the sun of italy
and sunk the whole world in universal night. These tremendous
effects, so long and so deeply felt throughout the fairest
portions of the earth, may be traced to the simple cause of the
superior power of population to the means of subsistence.

It is well known that a country in pasture cannot support so
many inhabitants as a country in tillage, but what renders
nations of shepherds so formidable is the power which they
possess of moving all together and the necessity they frequently
feel of exerting this power in search of fresh pasture for their
herds. A tribe that was rich in cattle had an immediate plenty of
food. Even the parent stock might be devoured in a case of
absolute necessity. The women lived in greater ease than among
nations of hunters. The men bold in their united strength and
confiding in their power of procuring pasture for their cattle by
change of place, felt, probably, but few fears about providing
for a family. These combined causes soon produced their natural
and invariable effect, an extended population. A more frequent
and rapid change of place became then necessary. A wider and more
extensive territory was successively occupied. A broader
desolation extended all around them. Want pinched the less
fortunate members of the society, and, at length, the
impossibility of supporting such a number together became too
evident to be resisted. Young scions were then pushed out from
the parent-stock and instructed to explore fresh regions and to
gain happier seats for themselves by their swords. 'The world was
all before them where to choose.' Restless from present distress,
flushed with the hope of fairer prospects, and animated with the
spirit of hardy enterprise, these daring adventurers were likely
to become formidable adversaries to all who opposed them. The
peaceful inhabitants of the countries on which they rushed could
not long withstand the energy of men acting under such powerful
motives of exertion. And when they fell in with any tribes like
their own, the contest was a struggle for existence, and they
fought with a desperate courage, inspired by the rejection that
death was the punishment of defeat and life the prize of victory.

In these savage contests many tribes must have been utterly
exterminated. Some, probably, perished by hardship and famine.
Others, whose leading star had given them a happier direction,
became great and powerful tribes, and, in their turns, sent off
fresh adventurers in search of still more fertile seats. The
prodigious waste of human life occasioned by this perpetual
struggle for room and food was more than supplied by the mighty
power of population, acting, in some degree, unshackled from the
consent habit of emigration. The tribes that migrated towards the
South, though they won these more fruitful regions by continual
battles, rapidly increased in number and power, from the
increased means of subsistence. Till at length the whole
territory, from the confines of China to the shores of the
Baltic, was peopled by a various race of Barbarians, brave,
robust, and enterprising, inured to hardship, and delighting in
war. Some tribes maintained their independence. Others ranged
themselves under the standard of some barbaric chieftain who led
them to victory after victory, and what was of more importance,
to regions abounding in corn, wine, and oil, the long wished for
consummation, and great reward of their labours. An Alaric, an
Attila, or a Zingis Khan, and the chiefs around them, might fight
for glory, for the fame of extensive conquests, but the true
cause that set in motion the great tide of northern emigration,
and that continued to propel it till it rolled at different
periods against China, Persia, italy, and even Egypt, was a
scarcity of food, a population extended beyond the means of
supporting it.

The absolute population at any one period, in proportion to
the extent of territory, could never be great, on account of the
unproductive nature of some of the regions occupied; but there
appears to have been a most rapid succession of human beings, and
as fast as some were mowed down by the scythe of war or of
famine, others rose in increased numbers to supply their place.
Among these bold and improvident Barbarians, population was
probably but little checked, as in modern states, from a fear of
future difficulties. A prevailing hope of bettering their
condition by change of place, a constant expectation of plunder,
a power even, if distressed, of selling their children as slaves,
added to the natural carelessness of the barbaric character, all
conspired to raise a population which remained to be repressed
afterwards by famine or war.

Where there is any inequality of conditions, and among
nations of shepherds this soon takes place, the distress arising
from a scarcity of provisions must fall hardest upon the least
fortunate members of the society. This distress also must
frequently have been felt by the women, exposed to casual plunder
in the absence of their husbands, and subject to continual
disappointments in their expected return.

But without knowing enough of the minute and intimate history
of these people, to point out precisely on what part the distress
for want of food chiefly fell, and to what extent it was
generally felt, I think we may fairly say, from all the accounts
that we have of nations of shepherds, that population invariably
increased among them whenever, by emigration or any other cause,
the means of subsistence were increased, and that a further
population was checked, and the actual population kept equal to
the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.

For, independently of any vicious customs that might have
prevailed amongst them with regard to women, which always operate
as checks to population, it must be acknowledged, I think, that
the commission of war is vice, and the effect of it misery, and
none can doubt the misery of want of food.


State of civilized nations--Probability that Europe is much more
populous now than in the time of Julius Caesar--Best criterion
of population--Probable error of Hume in one the criterions that
he proposes as assisting in an estimate of population--Slow
increase of population at present in most of the states of Europe
--The two principal checks to population--The first, or
preventive check examined with regard to England.

In examining the next state of mankind with relation to the
question before us, the state of mixed pasture and tillage, in
which with some variation in the proportions the most civilized
nations must always remain, we shall be assisted in our review by
what we daily see around us, by actual experience, by facts that
come within the scope of every man's observation.

Notwithstanding the exaggerations of some old historians,
there can remain no doubt in the mind of any thinking man that
the population of the principal countries of Europe, France,
England, Germany, Russia, Poland, Sweden, and Denmark is much
greater than ever it was in former times. The obvious reason of
these exaggerations is the formidable aspect that even a thinly
peopled nation must have, when collected together and moving all
at once in search of fresh seats. If to this tremendous
appearance be added a succession at certain intervals of similar
emigrations, we shall not be much surprised that the fears of
the timid nations of the South represented the North as a region
absolutely swarming with human beings. A nearer and juster view
of the subject at present enables us to see that the inference
was as absurd as if a man in this country, who was continually
meeting on the road droves of cattle from Wales and the North,
was immediately to conclude that these countries were the most
productive of all the parts of the kingdom.

The reason that the greater part of Europe is more populous
now than it was in former times, is that the industry of the
inhabitants has made these countries produce a greater quantity
of human subsistence. For I conceive that it may be laid down as
a position not to be controverted, that, taking a sufficient
extent of territory to include within it exportation and
importation, and allowing some variation for the prevalence of
luxury, or of frugal habits, that population constantly bears a
regular proportion to the food that the earth is made to produce.
In the controversy concerning the populousness of ancient and
modern nations, could it be clearly ascertained that the average
produce of the countries in question, taken altogether, is
greater now than it was in the times of Julius Caesar, the
dispute would be at once determined.

When we are assured that China is the most fertile country in
the world, that almost all the land is in tillage, and that a
great part of it bears two crops every year, and further, that
the people live very frugally, we may infer with certainty that
the population must be immense, without busying ourselves in
inquiries into the manners and habits of the lower classes and
the encouragements to early marriages. But these inquiries are of
the utmost importance, and a minute history of the customs of the
lower Chinese would be of the greatest use in ascertaining in
what manner the checks to a further population operate; what are
the vices, and what are the distresses that prevent an increase
of numbers beyond the ability of the country to support.

Hume, in his essay on the populousness of ancient and modern
nations, when he intermingles, as he says, an inquiry concerning
causes with that concerning facts, does not seem to see with his
usual penetration how very little some of the causes he alludes
to could enable him to form any judgement of the actual
population of ancient nations. If any inference can be drawn from
them, perhaps it should be directly the reverse of what Hume
draws, though I certainly ought to speak with great diffidence in
dissenting from a man who of all others on such subjects was the
least likely to be deceived by first appearances. If I find that
at a certain period in ancient history, the encouragements to
have a family were great, that early marriages were consequently
very prevalent, and that few persons remained single, I should
infer with certainty that population was rapidly increasing, but
by no means that it was then actually very great, rather; indeed,
the contrary, that it was then thin and that there was room and
food for a much greater number. On the other hand, if I find that
at this period the difficulties attending a family were very
great, that, consequently, few early marriages took place, and
that a great number of both sexes remained single, I infer with
certainty that population was at a stand, and, probably, because
the actual population was very great in proportion to the
fertility of the land and that there was scarcely room and food
for more. The number of footmen, housemaids, and other persons
remaining unmarried in modern states, Hume allows to be rather an
argument against their population. I should rather draw a
contrary inference and consider it an argument of their fullness,
though this inference is not certain, because there are many
thinly inhabited states that are yet stationary in their
population. To speak, therefore, correctly, perhaps it may be
said that the number of unmarried persons in proportion to the
whole number, existing at different periods, in the same or
different states will enable us to judge whether population at
these periods was increasing, stationary, or decreasing, but will
form no criterion by which we can determine the actual

There is, however, a circumstance taken notice of in most of
the accounts we have of China that it seems difficult to
reconcile with this reasoning. It is said that early marriages
very generally prevail through all the ranks of the Chinese. Yet
Dr Adam Smith supposes that population in China is stationary.
These two circumstances appear to be irreconcilable. It certainly
seems very little probable that the population of China is fast
increasing. Every acre of land has been so long in cultivation
that we can hardly conceive there is any great yearly addition to
the average produce. The fact, perhaps, of the universality of
early marriages may not be sufficiently ascertained. If it be
supposed true, the only way of accounting for the difficulty,
with our present knowledge of the subject, appears to be that the
redundant population, necessarily occasioned by the prevalence of
early marriages, must be repressed by occasional famines, and by
the custom of exposing children, which, in times of distress, is
probably more frequent than is ever acknowledged to Europeans.
Relative to this barbarous practice, it is difficult to avoid
remarking, that there cannot be a stronger proof of the
distresses that have been felt by mankind for want of food, than
the existence of a custom that thus violates the most natural
principle of the human heart. It appears to have been very
general among ancient nations, and certainly tended rather to
increase population.

In examining the principal states of modern Europe, we shall
find that though they have increased very considerably in
population since they were nations of shepherds, yet that at
present their progress is but slow, and instead of doubling their
numbers every twenty-five years they require three or four
hundred years, or more, for that purpose. Some, indeed, may be
absolutely stationary, and others even retrograde. The cause of
this slow progress in population cannot be traced to a decay of
the passion between the sexes. We have sufficient reason to think
that this natural propensity exists still in undiminished vigour.
Why then do not its effects appear in a rapid increase of the
human species? An intimate view of the state of society in any
one country in Europe, which may serve equally for all, will
enable us to answer this question, and to say that a foresight of
the difficulties attending the rearing of a family acts as a
preventive check, and the actual distresses of some of the lower
classes, by which they are disabled from giving the proper food
and attention to their children, act as a positive check to the
natural increase of population.

England, as one of the most flourishing states of Europe, may
be fairly taken for an example, and the observations made will
apply with but little variation to any other country where the
population increases slowly.

The preventive check appears to operate in some degree
through all the ranks of society in England. There are some men,
even in the highest rank, who are prevented from marrying by the
idea of the expenses that they must retrench, and the fancied
pleasures that they must deprive themselves of, on the
supposition of having a family. These considerations are
certainly trivial, but a preventive foresight of this kind has
objects of much greater weight for its contemplation as we go

A man of liberal education, but with an income only just
sufficient to enable him to associate in the rank of gentlemen,
must feel absolutely certain that if he marries and has a family
he shall be obliged, if he mixes at all in society, to rank
himself with moderate farmers and the lower class of tradesmen.
The woman that a man of education would naturally make the object
of his choice would be one brought up in the same tastes and
sentiments with himself and used to the familiar intercourse of a
society totally different from that to which she must be reduced
by marriage. Can a man consent to place the object of his
affection in a situation so discordant, probably, to her tastes
and inclinations? Two or three steps of descent in society,
particularly at this round of the ladder, where education ends
and ignorance begins, will not be considered by the generality of
people as a fancied and chimerical, but a real and essential
evil. If society be held desirable, it surely must be free,
equal, and reciprocal society, where benefits are conferred as
well as received, and not such as the dependent finds with his
patron or the poor with the rich.

These considerations undoubtedly prevent a great number in
this rank of life from following the bent of their inclinations
in an early attachment. Others, guided either by a stronger
passion, or a weaker judgement, break through these restraints,
and it would be hard indeed, if the gratification of so
delightful a passion as virtuous love, did not, sometimes, more
than counterbalance all its attendant evils. But I fear it must
be owned that the more general consequences of such marriages are
rather calculated to justify than to repress the forebodings of
the prudent.

The sons of tradesmen and farmers are exhorted not to marry,
and generally find it necessary to pursue this advice till they
are settled in some business or farm that may enable them to
support a family. These events may not, perhaps, occur till they
are far advanced in life. The scarcity of farms is a very general
complaint in England. And the competition in every kind of
business is so great that it is not possible that all should be

The labourer who earns eighteen pence a day and lives with
some degree of comfort as a single man, will hesitate a little
before he divides that pittance among four or five, which seems
to be but just sufficient for one. Harder fare and harder labour
he would submit to for the sake of living with the woman that he
loves, but he must feel conscious, if he thinks at all, that
should he have a large family, and any ill luck whatever, no
degree of frugality, no possible exertion of his manual strength
could preserve him from the heart-rending sensation of seeing his
children starve, or of forfeiting his independence, and being
obliged to the parish for their support. The love of independence
is a sentiment that surely none would wish to be erased from the
breast of man, though the parish law of England, it must be
confessed, is a system of all others the most calculated
gradually to weaken this sentiment, and in the end may eradicate
it completely.

The servants who live in gentlemen's families have restraints
that are yet stronger to break through in venturing upon
marriage. They possess the necessaries, and even the comforts of
life, almost in as great plenty as their masters. Their work is
easy and their food luxurious compared with the class of
labourers. And their sense of dependence is weakened by the
conscious power of changing their masters, if they feel
themselves offended. Thus comfortably situated at present, what
are their prospects in marrying? Without knowledge or capital,
either for business, or farming, and unused and therefore unable,
to earn a subsistence by daily labour, their only refuge seems to
be a miserable alehouse, which certainly offers no very
enchanting prospect of a happy evening to their lives. By much
the greater part, therefore, deterred by this uninviting view of
their future situation, content themselves with remaining single
where they are.

If this sketch of the state of society in England be near the
truth, and I do not conceive that it is exaggerated, it will be
allowed that the preventive check to population in this country
operates, though with varied force, through all the classes of
the community. The same observation will hold true with regard to
all old states. The effects, indeed, of these restraints upon
marriage are but too conspicuous in the consequent vices that are
produced in almost every part of the world, vices that are
continually involving both sexes in inextricable unhappiness.


The second, or positive check to population examined, in England
--The true cause why the immense sum collected in England for the
poor does not better their condition--The powerful tendency of
the poor laws to defeat their own purpose--Palliative of the
distresses of the poor proposed--The absolute impossibility,
from the fixed laws of our nature, that the pressure of want can
ever be completely removed from the lower classes of society--
All the checks to population may be resolved into misery or vice.

The positive check to population, by which I mean the check that
represses an increase which is already begun, is confined
chiefly, though not perhaps solely, to the lowest orders of

This check is not so obvious to common view as the other I have
mentioned, and, to prove distinctly the force and extent of its
operation would require, perhaps, more data than we are in
possession of. But I believe it has been very generally remarked
by those who have attended to bills of mortality that of the
number of children who die annually, much too great a proportion
belongs to those who may be supposed unable to give their
offspring proper food and attention, exposed as they are
occasionally to severe distress and confined, perhaps, to
unwholesome habitations and hard labour. This mortality among the
children of the poor has been constantly taken notice of in all
towns. It certainly does not prevail in an equal degree in the
country, but the subject has not hitherto received sufficient
attention to enable anyone to say that there are not more deaths
in proportion among the children of the poor, even in the
country, than among those of the middling and higher classes.
Indeed, it seems difficult to suppose that a labourer's wife who
has six children, and who is sometimes in absolute want of bread,
should be able always to give them the food and attention
necessary to support life. The sons and daughters of peasants
will not be found such rosy cherubs in real life as they are
described to be in romances. It cannot fail to be remarked by
those who live much in the country that the sons of labourers are
very apt to be stunted in their growth, and are a long while
arriving at maturity. Boys that you would guess to be fourteen or
fifteen are, upon inquiry, frequently found to be eighteen or
nineteen. And the lads who drive plough, which must certainly be
a healthy exercise, are very rarely seen with any appearance of
calves to their legs: a circumstance which can only be attributed
to a want either of proper or of sufficient nourishment.

To remedy the frequent distresses of the common people, the
poor laws of England have been instituted; but it is to be
feared, that though they may have alleviated a little the
intensity of individual misfortune, they have spread the general
evil over a much larger surface. It is a subject often started in
conversation and mentioned always as a matter of great surprise
that, notwithstanding the immense sum that is annually collected
for the poor in England, there is still so much distress among
them. Some think that the money must be embezzled, others that
the church-wardens and overseers consume the greater part of it
in dinners. All agree that somehow or other it must be very
ill-managed. In short the fact that nearly three millions are
collected annually for the poor and yet that their distresses are
not removed is the subject of continual astonishment. But a man
who sees a little below the surface of things would be very much
more astonished if the fact were otherwise than it is observed to
be, or even if a collection universally of eighteen shillings in
the pound, instead of four, were materially to alter it. I will
state a case which I hope will elucidate my meaning.

Suppose that by a subscription of the rich the eighteen pence
a day which men earn now was made up five shillings, it might be
imagined, perhaps, that they would then be able to live
comfortably and have a piece of meat every day for their dinners.
But this would be a very false conclusion. The transfer of three
shillings and sixpence a day to every labourer would not increase
the quantity of meat in the country. There is not at present
enough for all to have a decent share. What would then be the
consequence? The competition among the buyers in the market of
meat would rapidly raise the price from sixpence or sevenpence,
to two or three shillings in the pound, and the commodity would
not be divided among many more than it is at present. When an
article is scarce, and cannot be distributed to all, he that can
shew the most valid patent, that is, he that offers most money,
becomes the possessor. If we can suppose the competition among
the buyers of meat to continue long enough for a greater number
of cattle to be reared annually, this could only be done at the
expense of the corn, which would be a very disadvantagous
exchange, for it is well known that the country could not then
support the same population, and when subsistence is scarce in
proportion to the number of people, it is of little consequence
whether the lowest members of the society possess eighteen pence
or five shillings. They must at all events be reduced to live
upon the hardest fare and in the smallest quantity.

It will be said, perhaps, that the increased number of
purchasers in every article would give a spur to productive
industry and that the whole produce of the island would be
increased. This might in some degree be the case. But the spur
that these fancied riches would give to population would more
than counterbalance it, and the increased produce would be to be
divided among a more than proportionably increased number of
people. All this time I am supposing that the same quantity of
work would be done as before. But this would not really take
place. The receipt of five shillings a day, instead of eighteen
pence, would make every man fancy himself comparatively rich and
able to indulge himself in many hours or days of leisure. This
would give a strong and immediate check to productive industry,
and, in a short time, not only the nation would be poorer, but
the lower classes themselves would be much more distressed than
when they received only eighteen pence a day.

A collection from the rich of eighteen shillings in the
pound, even if distributed in the most judicious manner, would
have a little the same effect as that resulting from the
supposition I have just made, and no possible contributions or
sacrifices of the rich, particularly in money, could for any time
prevent the recurrence of distress among the lower members of
society, whoever they were. Great changes might, indeed, be made.
The rich might become poor, and some of the poor rich, but a part
of the society must necessarily feel a difficulty of living, and
this difficulty will naturally fall on the least fortunate

It may at first appear strange, but I believe it is true,
that I cannot by means of money raise a poor man and enable him
to live much better than he did before, without proportionably
depressing others in the same class. If I retrench the quantity
of food consumed in my house, and give him what I have cut off, I
then benefit him, without depressing any but myself and family,
who, perhaps, may be well able to bear it. If I turn up a piece
of uncultivated land, and give him the produce, I then benefit
both him and all the members of the society, because what he
before consumed is thrown into the common stock, and probably
some of the new produce with it. But if I only give him money,
supposing the produce of the country to remain the same, I give
him a title to a larger share of that produce than formerly,
which share he cannot receive without diminishing the shares of
others. It is evident that this effect, in individual instances,
must be so small as to be totally imperceptible; but still it
must exist, as many other effects do, which, like some of the
insects that people the air, elude our grosser perceptions.

Supposing the quantity of food in any country to remain the
same for many years together, it is evident that this food must
be divided according to the value of each man's patent, or the
sum of money that he can afford to spend on this commodity so
universally in request. (Mr Godwin calls the wealth that a man
receives from his ancestors a mouldy patent. It may, I think,
very properly be termed a patent, but I hardly see the propriety
of calling it a mouldy one, as it is an article in such constant
use.) It is a demonstrative truth, therefore, that the patents of
one set of men could not be increased in value without
diminishing the value of the patents of some other set of men. If
the rich were to subscribe and give five shillings a day to five
hundred thousand men without retrenching their own tables, no
doubt can exist, that as these men would naturally live more at
their ease and consume a greater quantity of provisions, there
would be less food remaining to divide among the rest, and
consequently each man's patent would be diminished in value or
the same number of pieces of silver would purchase a smaller
quantity of subsistence.

An increase of population without a proportional increase of
food will evidently have the same effect in lowering the value of
each man's patent. The food must necessarily be distributed in
smaller quantities, and consequently a day's labour will purchase
a smaller quantity of provisions. An increase in the price of
provisions would arise either from an increase of population
faster than the means of subsistence, or from a different
distribution of the money of the society. The food of a country
that has been long occupied, if it be increasing, increases
slowly and regularly and cannot be made to answer any sudden
demands, but variations in the distribution of the money of a
society are not infrequently occurring, and are undoubtedly among
the causes that occasion the continual variations which we
observe in the price of provisions.

The poor laws of England tend to depress the general
condition of the poor in these two ways. Their first obvious
tendency is to increase population without increasing the food
for its support. A poor man may marry with little or no prospect
of being able to support a family in independence. They may be
said therefore in some measure to create the poor which they
maintain, and as the provisions of the country must, in
consequence of the increased population, be distributed to every
man in smaller proportions, it is evident that the labour of
those who are not supported by parish assistance will purchase a
smaller quantity of provisions than before and consequently more
of them must be driven to ask for support.

Secondly, the quantity of provisions consumed in workhouses
upon a part of the society that cannot in general be considered
as the most valuable part diminishes the shares that would
otherwise belong to more industrious and more worthy members, and
thus in the same manner forces more to become dependent. If the
poor in the workhouses were to live better than they now do, this
new distribution of the money of the society would tend more
conspicuously to depress the condition of those out of the
workhouses by occasioning a rise in the price of provisions.

Fortunately for England, a spirit of independence still
remains among the peasantry. The poor laws are strongly
calculated to eradicate this spirit. They have succeeded in part,
but had they succeeded as completely as might have been expected
their pernicious tendency would not have been so long concealed.

Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent
poverty ought to be held disgraceful. Such a stimulus seems to be
absolutely necessary to promote the happiness of the great mass
of mankind, and every general attempt to weaken this stimulus,
however benevolent its apparent intention, will always defeat its
own purpose. If men are induced to marry from a prospect of
parish provision, with little or no chance of maintaining their
families in independence, they are not only unjustly tempted to
bring unhappiness and dependence upon themselves and children,
but they are tempted, without knowing it, to injure all in the
same class with themselves. A labourer who marries without being
able to support a family may in some respects be considered as an
enemy to all his fellow-labourers.

I feel no doubt whatever that the parish laws of England have
contributed to raise the price of provisions and to lower the
real price of labour. They have therefore contributed to
impoverish that class of people whose only possession is their
labour. It is also difficult to suppose that they have not
powerfully contributed to generate that carelessness and want of
frugality observable among the poor, so contrary to the
disposition frequently to be remarked among petty tradesmen and
small farmers. The labouring poor, to use a vulgar expression,
seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants
employ their whole attention, and they seldom think of the
future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom
exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities
goes, generally speaking, to the ale-house. The poor laws of
England may therefore be said to diminish both the power and the
will to save among the common people, and thus to weaken one of
the strongest incentives to sobriety and industry, and
consequently to happiness.

It is a general complaint among master manufacturers that
high wages ruin all their workmen, but it is difficult to
conceive that these men would not save a part of their high wages
for the future support of their families, instead of spending it
in drunkenness and dissipation, if they did not rely on parish
assistance for support in case of accidents. And that the poor
employed in manufactures consider this assistance as a reason why
they may spend all the wages they earn and enjoy themselves while
they can appears to be evident from the number of families that,
upon the failure of any great manufactory, immediately fall upon
the parish, when perhaps the wages earned in this manufactory
while it flourished were sufficiently above the price of common
country labour to have allowed them to save enough for their
support till they could find some other channel for their

A man who might not be deterred from going to the ale-house
from the consideration that on his death, or sickness, he should
leave his wife and family upon the parish might yet hesitate in
thus dissipating his earnings if he were assured that, in either
of these cases, his family must starve or be left to the support
of casual bounty. In China, where the real as well as nominal
price of labour is very low, sons are yet obliged by law to
support their aged and helpless parents. Whether such a law would
be advisable in this country I will not pretend to determine. But
it seems at any rate highly improper, by positive institutions,
which render dependent poverty so general, to weaken that
disgrace, which for the best and most humane reasons ought to
attach to it.

The mass of happiness among the common people cannot but be
diminished when one of the strongest checks to idleness and
dissipation is thus removed, and when men are thus allured to
marry with little or no prospect of being able to maintain a
family in independence. Every obstacle in the way of marriage
must undoubtedly be considered as a species of unhappiness. But
as from the laws of our nature some check to population must
exist, it is better that it should be checked from a foresight of
the difficulties attending a family and the fear of dependent
poverty than that it should be encouraged, only to be repressed
afterwards by want and sickness.

It should be remembered always that there is an essential
difference between food and those wrought commodities, the raw
materials of which are in great plenty. A demand for these last
will not fail to create them in as great a quantity as they are
wanted. The demand for food has by no means the same creative
power. In a country where all the fertile spots have been seized,
high offers are necessary to encourage the farmer to lay his
dressing on land from which he cannot expect a profitable return
for some years. And before the prospect of advantage is
sufficiently great to encourage this sort of agricultural
enterprise, and while the new produce is rising, great distresses
may be suffered from the want of it. The demand for an increased
quantity of subsistence is, with few exceptions, constant
everywhere, yet we see how slowly it is answered in all those
countries that have been long occupied.

The poor laws of England were undoubtedly instituted for the
most benevolent purpose, but there is great reason to think that
they have not succeeded in their intention. They certainly
mitigate some cases of very severe distress which might otherwise
occur, yet the state of the poor who are supported by parishes,
considered in all its circumstances, is very far from being free
from misery. But one of the principal objections to them is that
for this assistance which some of the poor receive, in itself
almost a doubtful blessing, the whole class of the common people
of England is subjected to a set of grating, inconvenient, and
tyrannical laws, totally inconsistent with the genuine spirit of
the constitution. The whole business of settlements, even in its
present amended state, is utterly contradictory to all ideas of
freedom. The parish persecution of men whose families are likely
to become chargeable, and of poor women who are near lying-in, is
a most disgraceful and disgusting tyranny. And the obstructions
continuity occasioned in the market of labour by these laws have
a constant tendency to add to the difficulties of those who are
struggling to support themselves without assistance.

These evils attendant on the poor laws are in some degree
irremediable. If assistance be to be distributed to a certain
class of people, a power must be given somewhere of
discriminating the proper objects and of managing the concerns of
the institutions that are necessary, but any great interference
with the affairs of other people is a species of tyranny, and in
the common course of things the exercise of this power may be
expected to become grating to those who are driven to ask for
support. The tyranny of Justices, Church-wardens, and Overseers,
is a common complaint among the poor, but the fault does not lie
so much in these persons, who probably, before they were in
power, were not worse than other people, but in the nature of all
such institutions.

The evil is perhaps gone too far to be remedied, but I feel
little doubt in my own mind that if the poor laws had never
existed, though there might have been a few more instances of
very severe distress, yet that the aggregate mass of happiness
among the common people would have been much greater than it is
at present.

Mr Pitt's Poor Bill has the appearance of being framed with
benevolent intentions, and the clamour raised against it was in
many respects ill directed, and unreasonable. But it must be
confessed that it possesses in a high degree the great and
radical defect of all systems of the kind, that of tending to
increase population without increasing the means for its support,
and thus to depress the condition of those that are not supported
by parishes, and, consequently, to create more poor.

To remove the wants of the lower classes of society is indeed
an arduous task. The truth is that the pressure of distress on
this part of a community is an evil so deeply seated that no
human ingenuity can reach it. Were I to propose a palliative, and
palliatives are all that the nature of the case will admit, it
should be, in the first place, the total abolition of all the
present parish-laws. This would at any rate give liberty and
freedom of action to the peasantry of England, which they can
hardly be said to possess at present. They would then be able to
settle without interruption, wherever there was a prospect of a
greater plenty of work and a higher price for labour. The market
of labour would then be free, and those obstacles removed which,
as things are now, often for a considerable time prevent the
price from rising according to the demand.

Secondly, premiums might be given for turning up fresh land,
and it possible encouragements held out to agriculture above
manufactures, and to tillage above grazing. Every endeavour
should be used to weaken and destroy all those institutions
relating to corporations, apprenticeships, etc., which cause the
labours of agriculture to be worse paid than the labours of trade
and manufactures. For a country can never produce its proper
quantity of food while these distinctions remain in favour of
artisans. Such encouragements to agriculture would tend to
furnish the market with an increasing quantity of healthy work,
and at the same time, by augmenting the produce of the country,
would raise the comparative price of labour and ameliorate the
condition of the labourer. Being now in better circumstances, and
seeing no prospect of parish assistance, he would be more able,
as well as more inclined, to enter into associations for
providing against the sickness of himself or family.

Lastly, for cases of extreme distress, county workhouses
might be established, supported by rates upon the whole kingdom,
and free for persons of all counties, and indeed of all nations.
The fare should be hard, and those that were able obliged to
work. It would be desirable that they should not be considered as
comfortable asylums in all difficulties, but merely as places
where severe distress might find some alleviation. A part of
these houses might be separated, or others built for a most
beneficial purpose, which has not been infrequently taken notice
of, that of providing a place where any person, whether native or
foreigner, might do a day's work at all times and receive the
market price for it. Many cases would undoubtedly be left for the
exertion of individual benevolence.

A plan of this kind, the preliminary of which should be an
abolition of all the present parish laws, seems to be the best
calculated to increase the mass of happiness among the common
people of England. To prevent the recurrence of misery, is, alas!
beyond the power of man. In the vain endeavour to attain what
in the nature of things is impossible, we now sacrifice not only
possible but certain benefits. We tell the common people that if
they will submit to a code of tyrannical regulations, they shall
never be in want. They do submit to these regulations. They
perform their part of the contract, but we do not, nay cannot,
perform ours, and thus the poor sacrifice the valuable blessing
of liberty and receive nothing that can be called an equivalent
in return.

Notwithstanding, then, the institution of the poor laws in
England, I think it will be allowed that considering the state of
the lower classes altogether, both in the towns and in the
country, the distresses which they suffer from the want of proper
and sufficient food, from hard labour and unwholesome
habitations, must operate as a constant check to incipient

To these two great checks to population, in all long occupied
countries, which I have called the preventive and the positive
checks, may be added vicious customs with respect to women, great
cities, unwholesome manufactures, luxury, pestilence, and war.

All these checks may be fairly resolved into misery and vice.
And that these are the true causes of the slow increase of
population in all the states of modern Europe, will appear
sufficiently evident from the comparatively rapid increase that
has invariably taken place whenever these causes have been in any
considerable degree removed.


New colonies--Reasons for their rapid increase--North American
Colonies--Extraordinary instance of increase in the back
settlements--Rapidity with which even old states recover the
ravages of war, pestilence, famine, or the convulsions of nature.

It has been universally remarked that all new colonies settled in
healthy countries, where there was plenty of room and food, have
constantly increased with astonishing rapidity in their
population. Some of the colonies from ancient Greece, in no very
long period, more than equalled their parent states in numbers
and strength. And not to dwell on remote instances, the European
settlements in the new world bear ample testimony to the truth of
a remark, which, indeed, has never, that I know of, been doubted.
A plenty of rich land, to be had for little or nothing, is so
powerful a cause of population as to overcome all other
obstacles. No settlements could well have been worse managed than
those of Spain in Mexico, Peru, and Quito. The tyranny,
superstition, and vices of the mother-country were introduced in
ample quantities among her children. Exorbitant taxes were
exacted by the Crown. The most arbitrary restrictions were
imposed on their trade. And the governors were not behind hand in
rapacity and extortion for themselves as well as their master.
Yet, under all these difficulties, the colonies made a quick
progress in population. The city of Lima, founded since the
conquest, is represented by Ulloa as containing fifty thousand
inhabitants near fifty years ago.6 Quito, which had been but a
hamlet of indians, is represented by the same author as in his
time equally populous. Mexico is said to contain a hundred
thousand inhabitants, which, notwithstanding the exaggerations of
the Spanish writers, is supposed to be five times greater than
what it contained in the time of Montezuma.

In the Portuguese colony of Brazil, governed with almost
equal tyranny, there were supposed to be, thirty years since, six
hundred thousand inhabitants of European extraction.

The Dutch and French colonies, though under the government of
exclusive companies of merchants, which, as Dr Adam Smith says
very justly, is the worst of all possible governments, still
persisted in thriving under every disadvantage.

But the English North American colonies, now the powerful
people of the United States of America, made by far the most
rapid progress. To the plenty of good land which they possessed
in common with the Spanish and Portuguese settlements, they added
a greater degree of liberty and equality. Though not without some
restrictions on their foreign commerce, they were allowed a
perfect liberty of managing their own internal affairs. The
political institutions that prevailed were favourable to the
alienation and division of property. Lands that were not
cultivated by the proprietor within a limited time were declared
grantable to any other person. In Pennsylvania there was no right
of primogeniture, and in the provinces of New England the eldest
had only a double share. There were no tithes in any of the
States, and scarcely any taxes. And on account of the extreme
cheapness of good land a capital could not be more advantageously
employed than in agriculture, which at the same time that it
supplies the greatest quantity of healthy work affords much the
most valuable produce to the society.

The consequence of these favourable circumstances united was
a rapidity of increase probably without parallel in history.
Throughout all the northern colonies, the population was found to
double itself in twenty-five years. The original number of
persons who had settled in the four provinces of new England in
1643 was 21,200.(I take these figures from Dr Price's two volumes
of Observations; not having Dr Styles' pamphlet, from which he
quotes, by me.) Afterwards, it is supposed that more left them
than went to them. In the year 1760, they were increased to half
a million. They had therefore all along doubled their own number
in twenty-five years. In New Jersey the period of doubling
appeared to be twenty-two years; and in Rhode island still less.
In the back settlements, where the inhabitants applied themselves
solely to agriculture, and luxury was not known, they were found
to double their own number in fifteen years, a most extraordinary
instance of increase. Along the sea coast, which would naturally
be first inhabited, the period of doubling was about thirty-five
years; and in some of the maritime towns, the population was
absolutely at a stand.

(In instances of this kind the powers of the earth appear to
be fully equal to answer it the demands for food that can be made
upon it by man. But we should be led into an error if we were
thence to suppose that population and food ever really increase
in the same ratio. The one is still a geometrical and the other
an arithmetical ratio, that is, one increases by multiplication,
and the other by addition. Where there are few people, and a
great quantity of fertile land, the power of the earth to afford
a yearly increase of food may be compared to a great reservoir of
water, supplied by a moderate stream. The faster population
increases, the more help will be got to draw off the water, and
consequently an increasing quantity will be taken every year. But
the sooner, undoubtedly, will the reservoir be exhausted, and the
streams only remain. When acre has been added to acre, till all
the fertile land is occupied, the yearly increase of food will
depend upon the amelioration of the land already in possession;
and even this moderate stream will be gradually diminishing. But
population, could it be supplied with food, would go on with
unexhausted vigour, and the increase of one period would furnish
the power of a greater increase the next, and this without any

These facts seem to shew that population increases exactly in
the proportion that the two great checks to it, misery and vice,
are removed, and that there is not a truer criterion of the
happiness and innocence of a people than the rapidity of their
increase. The unwholesomeness of towns, to which some persons are
necessarily driven from the nature of their trades, must be
considered as a species of misery, and every the slightest check
to marriage, from a prospect of the difficulty of maintaining a
family, may be fairly classed under the same head. In short it is
difficult to conceive any check to population which does not come
under the description of some species of misery or vice.

The population of the thirteen American States before the war
was reckoned at about three millions. Nobody imagines that Great
Britain is less populous at present for the emigration of the
small parent stock that produced these numbers. On the contrary,
a certain degree of emigration is known to be favourable to the
population of the mother country. It has been particularly
remarked that the two Spanish provinces from which the greatest
number of people emigrated to America, became in consequence more
populous. Whatever was the original number of British emigrants
that increased so fast in the North American Colonies, let us
ask, why does not an equal number produce an equal increase in
the same time in Great Britain? The great and obvious cause to be
assigned is the want of room and food, or, in other words,
misery, and that this is a much more powerful cause even than
vice appears sufficiently evident from the rapidity with which
even old states recover the desolations of war, pestilence, or
the accidents of nature. They are then for a short time placed a
little in the situation of new states, and the effect is always
answerable to what might be expected. If the industry of the
inhabitants be not destroyed by fear or tyranny, subsistence will
soon increase beyond the wants of the reduced numbers, and the
invariable consequence will be that population which before,
perhaps, was nearly stationary, will begin immediately to

The fertile province of Flanders, which has been so often the
seat of the most destructive wars, after a respite of a few
years, has appeared always as fruitful and as populous as ever.
Even the Palatinate lifted up its head again after the execrable
ravages of Louis the Fourteenth. The effects of the dreadful
plague in London in 1666 were not perceptible fifteen or twenty
years afterwards. The traces of the most destructive famines in
China and Indostan are by all accounts very soon obliterated.10
It may even be doubted whether Turkey and Egypt are upon an
average much less populous for the plagues that periodically lay
them waste. If the number of people which they contain be less
now than formerly, it is, probably, rather to be attributed to
the tyranny and oppression of the government under which they
groan, and the consequent discouragements to agriculture, than to
the loss which they sustain by the plague. The most tremendous
convulsions of nature, such as volcanic eruptions and
earthquakes, if they do not happen so frequently as to drive away
the inhabitants, or to destroy their spirit of industry, have but
a trifling effect on the average population of any state. Naples,
and the country under Vesuvius, are still very populous,
notwithstanding the repeated eruptions of that mountain. And
Lisbon and Lima are now, probably, nearly in the same state with
regard to population as they were before the last earthquakes.


A probable cause of epidemics--Extracts from Mr Suessmilch's
tables--Periodical returns of sickly seasons to be expected in
certain cases--Proportion of births to burials for short periods
in any country an inadequate criterion of the real average
increase of population--Best criterion of a permanent increase
of population--Great frugality of living one of the causes of
the famines of China and Indostan--Evil tendency of one of the
clauses in Mr Pitt's Poor Bill--Only one proper way of
encouraging population--Causes of the Happiness of nations--
Famine, the last and most dreadful mode by which nature represses
a redundant population--The three propositions considered as

By great attention to cleanliness, the plague seems at length to
be completely expelled from London. But it is not improbable that
among the secondary causes that produce even sickly seasons and
epidemics ought to be ranked a crowded population and unwholesome
and insufficient food. I have been led to this remark, by looking
over some of the tables of Mr Suessmilch, which Dr Price has
extracted in one of his notes to the postscript on the
controversy respecting the population of England and Wales. They
are considered as very correct, and if such tables were general,
they would throw great light on the different ways by which
population is repressed and prevented from increasing beyond the
means of subsistence in any country. I will extract a part of the
tables, with Dr Price's remarks.


                                            Proportion   Proportion
                 Births  Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
                                            Marriages     Burials
10 Yrs to 1702   21,963  14,718   5,928      37 to 10    150 to 100
5 Yrs to 1716    21,602  11,984   4,968      37 to 10    180 to 100
5 Yrs to 1756    28,392  19,154   5,599      50 to 10    148 to 100

"N.B. In 1709 and 1710, a pestilence carried off 247,733 of the
inhabitants of this country, and in 1736 and 1737, epidemics
prevailed, which again checked its increase."

It may be remarked, that the greatest proportion of births to
burials, was in the five years after the great pestilence.


                                            Proportion   Proportion
Annual Average   Births  Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
                                            Marriages     Burials
6 yrs to 1702   6,540     4,647   1,810      36 to 10    140 to 100
6 yrs to 1708   7,455     4,208   1,875      39 to 10    177 to 100
6 yrs to 1726   8,432     5,627   2,131      39 to 10    150 to 100
6 yrs to 1756  12,767     9,281   2,957      43 to 10    137 to 100

"In this instance the inhabitants appear to have been almost
doubled in fifty-six years, no very bad epidemics having once
interrupted the increase, but the three years immediately follow
ing the last period (to 1759) were so sickly that the births were
sunk to 10,229 and the burials raised to 15,068."

Is it not probable that in this case the number of inhabitants
had increased faster than the food and the accommodations
necessary to preserve them in health? The mass of the people
would, upon this supposition, be obliged to live harder, and
a greater number would be crowded together in one house, and
it is not surely improbable that these were among the natural
causes that produced the three sickly years. These causes
may produce such an effect, though the country, absolutely
considered, may not be extremely crowded and populous. In a
country even thinly inhabited, if an increase of population take
place, before more food is raised, and more houses are built, the
inhabitants must be distressed in some degree for room and
subsistence. Were the marriages in England, for the next eight or
ten years, to be more prolifick than usual, or even were a
greater number of marriages than usual to take place, supposing
the number of houses to remain the same, instead of five or six
to a cottage, there must be seven or eight, and this, added to
the necessity of harder living, would probably have a very
unfavourable effect on the health of the common people.


                                            Proportion   Proportion
Annual Average   Births  Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
                                            Marriages    Burials
5 yrs to 1701    5,433    3,483  1,436      37 to 10    155 to 100
5 yrs to 1726    7,012    4,254  1,713      40 to 10    164 to 100
5 yrs to 1756    7,978    5,567  1,891      42 to 10    143 to 100

"Epidemics prevailed for six years, from 1736, to 1741, which
checked the increase."


                                            Proportion   Proportion
Annual Average   Births  Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
                                            Marriages    Burials
5 yrs to 1702    6,431   4,103   1,681      38 to 10    156 to 100
5 yrs to 1717    7,590   5,335   2,076      36 to 10    142 to 100
5 yrs to 1756    8,850   8,069   2,193      40 to 10    109 to 100

"The years 1738, 1740, 1750, and 1751, were particularly

For further information on this subject, I refer the reader
to Mr Suessmilch's tables. The extracts that I have made are
sufficient to shew the periodical, though irregular, returns of
sickly seasons, and it seems highly probable that a scantiness of
room and food was one of the principal causes that occasioned

It appears from the tables that these countries were
increasing rather fast for old states, notwithstanding the
occasional seasons that prevailed. Cultivation must have been
improving, and marriages, consequently, encouraged. For the
checks to population appear to have been rather of the positive,
than of the preventive kind. When from a prospect of increasing
plenty in any country, the weight that represses population is in
some degree removed, it is highly probable that the motion will
be continued beyond the operation of the cause that first
impelled it. Or, to be more particular, when the increasing
produce of a country, and the increasing demand for labour, so
far ameliorate the condition of the labourer as greatly to
encourage marriage, it is probable that the custom of early
marriages will continue till the population of the country has
gone beyond the increased produce, and sickly seasons appear to
be the natural and necessary consequence. I should expect,
therefore, that those countries where subsistence was increasing
sufficiency at times to encourage population but not to answer
all its demands, would be more subject to periodical epidemics
than those where the population could more completely accommodate
itself to the average produce.

An observation the converse of this will probably also be
found true. In those countries that are subject to periodical
sicknesses, the increase of population, or the excess of births
above the burials, will be greater in the intervals of these
periods than is usual, caeteris paribus, in the countries not so
much subject to such disorders. If Turkey and Egypt have been
nearly stationary in their average population for the last
century, in the intervals of their periodical plagues, the births
must have exceeded the burials in a greater proportion than in
such countries as France and England.

The average proportion of births to burials in any country
for a period of five to ten years, will hence appear to be a very
inadequate criterion by which to judge of its real progress in
population. This proportion certainly shews the rate of increase
during those five or ten years; but we can by no means thence
infer what had been the increase for the twenty years before, or
what would be the increase for the twenty years after. Dr Price
observes that Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the kingdom of Naples,
are increasing fast; but the extracts from registers that he has
given are not for periods of sufficient extent to establish the
fact. It is highly probable, however, that Sweden, Norway, and
Russia, are really increasing their population, though not at the
rate that the proportion of births to burials for the short
periods that Dr Price takes would seem to shew. (See Dr Price's
Observations, Vol. ii, postscript to the controversy on the
population of England and Wales.) For five years, ending in 1777,
the proportion of births to burials in the kingdom of Naples was
144 to 100, but there is reason to suppose that this proportion
would indicate an increase much greater than would be really
found to have taken place in that kingdom during a period of a
hundred years.

Dr Short compared the registers of many villages and market
towns in England for two periods; the first, from Queen Elizabeth
to the middle of the last century, and the second, from different
years at the end of the last century to the middle of the
present. And from a comparison of these extracts, it appears that
in the former period the births exceeded the burials in the
proportion of 124 to 100, but in the latter, only in the
proportion of 111 to 100. Dr Price thinks that the registers in
the former period are not to be depended upon, but, probably, in
this instance they do not give incorrect proportions. At least
there are many reasons for expecting to find a greater excess of
births above the burials in the former period than in the latter.
In the natural progress of the population of any country, more
good land will, caeteris paribus, be taken into cultivation in
the earlier stages of it than in the later. (I say 'caeteris
paribus', because the increase of the produce of any country will
always very greatly depend on the spirit of industry that
prevails, and the way in which it is directed. The knowledge and
habits of the people, and other temporary causes, particularly
the degree of civil liberty and equality existing at the time,
must always have great influence in exciting and directing this
spirit.) And a greater proportional yearly increase of produce
will almost invariably be followed by a greater proportional
increase of population. But, besides this great cause, which
would naturally give the excess of births above burials greater
at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign than in the middle of the
present century, I cannot help thinking that the occasional
ravages of the plague in the former period must have had some
tendency to increase this proportion. If an average of ten years
had been taken in the intervals of the returns of this dreadful
disorder, or if the years of plague had been rejected as
accidental, the registers would certainly give the proportion of
births to burials too high for the real average increase of the
population. For some few years after the great plague in 1666, it
is probable that there was a more than usual excess of births
above burials, particularly if Dr Price's opinion be founded,
that England was more populous at the revolution (which happened
only twenty-two years afterwards) than it is at present.

Mr King, in 1693, stated the proportion of the births to the
burials throughout the Kingdom, exclusive of London, as 115 to
100. Dr Short makes it, in the middle of the present century, 111
to 100, including London. The proportion in France for five
years, ending in 1774, was 117 to 100. If these statements are
near the truth; and if there are no very great variations at
particular periods in the proportions, it would appear that the
population of France and England has accommodated itself very
nearly to the average produce of each country. The
discouragements to marriage, the consequent vicious habits, war,
luxury, the silent though certain depopulation of large towns,
and the close habitations, and insufficient food of many of the
poor, prevent population from increasing beyond the means of
subsistence; and, if I may use an expression which certainly at
first appears strange, supercede the necessity of great and
ravaging epidemics to repress what is redundant. Were a wasting
plague to sweep off two millions in England, and six millions in
France, there can be no doubt whatever that, after the
inhabitants had recovered from the dreadful shock, the proportion
of births to burials would be much above what it is in either
country at present.

In New Jersey, the proportion of births to deaths on an
average of seven years, ending in 1743, was as 300 to 100. In
France and England, taking the highest proportion, it is as 117
to 100. Great and astonishing as this difference is, we ought not
to be so wonder-struck at it as to attribute it to the miraculous
interposition of heaven. The causes of it are not remote, latent
and mysterious; but near us, round about us, and open to the
investigation of every inquiring mind. It accords with the most
liberal spirit of philosophy to suppose that not a stone can
fall, or a plant rise, without the immediate agency of divine
power. But we know from experience that these operations of what
we call nature have been conducted almost invariably according to
fixed laws. And since the world began, the causes of population
and depopulation have probably been as constant as any of the
laws of nature with which we are acquainted.

The passion between the sexes has appeared in every age to be
so nearly the same that it may always be considered, in algebraic
language, as a given quantity. The great law of necessity which
prevents population from increasing in any country beyond the
food which it can either produce or acquire, is a law so open to
our view, so obvious and evident to our understandings, and so
completely confirmed by the experience of every age, that we
cannot for a moment doubt it. The different modes which nature
takes to prevent or repress a redundant population do not appear,
indeed, to us so certain and regular, but though we cannot always
predict the mode we may with certainty predict the fact. If the
proportion of births to deaths for a few years indicate an
increase of numbers much beyond the proportional increased or
acquired produce of the country, we may be perfectly certain that
unless an emigration takes place, the deaths will shortly exceed
the births; and that the increase that had taken place for a few
years cannot be the real average increase of the population of
the country. Were there no other depopulating causes, every
country would, without doubt, be subject to periodical
pestilences or famine.

The only true criterion of a real and permanent increase in
the population of any country is the increase of the means of
subsistence. But even, this criterion is subject to some slight
variations which are, however, completely open to our view and
observations. In some countries population appears to have been
forced, that is, the people have been habituated by degrees to
live almost upon the smallest possible quantity of food. There
must have been periods in such counties when population increased
permanently, without an increase in the means of subsistence.
China seems to answer to this description. If the accounts we
have of it are to be trusted, the lower classes of people are in
the habit of living almost upon the smallest possible quantity of
food and are glad to get any putrid offals that European
labourers would rather starve than eat. The law in China which
permits parents to expose their children has tended principally
thus to force the population. A nation in this state must
necessarily be subject to famines. Where a country is so populous
in proportion to the means of subsistence that the average
produce of it is but barely sufficient to support the lives of
the inhabitants, any deficiency from the badness of seasons must
be fatal. It is probable that the very frugal manner in which the
Gentoos are in the habit of living contributes in some degree to
the famines of indostan.

In America, where the reward of labour is at present so
liberal, the lower classes might retrench very considerably in a
year of scarcity without materially distressing themselves. A
famine therefore seems to be almost impossible. It may be
expected that in the progress of the population of America, the
labourers will in time be much less liberally rewarded. The
numbers will in this case permanently increase without a
proportional increase in the means of subsistence.

In the different states of Europe there must be some
variations in the proportion between the number of inhabitants
and the quantity of food consumed, arising from the different
habits of living that prevail in each state. The labourers of the
South of England are so accustomed to eat fine wheaten bread that
they will suffer themselves to be half starved before they will
submit to live like the Scotch peasants. They might perhaps in
time, by the constant operation of the hard law of necessity, be
reduced to live even like the Lower Chinese, and the country
would then, with the same quantity of food, support a greater
population. But to effect this must always be a most difficult,
and, every friend to humanity will hope, an abortive attempt.
Nothing is so common as to hear of encouragements that ought to
be given to population. If the tendency of mankind to increase be
so great as I have represented it to be, it may appear strange
that this increase does not come when it is thus repeatedly
called for. The true reason is that the demand for a greater
population is made without preparing the funds necessary to
support it. Increase the demand for agricultural labour by
promoting cultivation, and with it consequently increase the
produce of the country, and ameliorate the condition of the
labourer, and no apprehensions whatever need be entertained of
the proportional increase of population. An attempt to effect
this purpose in any other way is vicious, cruel, and tyrannical,
and in any state of tolerable freedom cannot therefore succeed.
It may appear to be the interest of the rulers, and the rich of a
state, to force population, and thereby lower the price of
labour, and consequently the expense of fleets and armies, and
the cost of manufactures for foreign sale; but every attempt of
the kind should be carefully watched and strenuously resisted by
the friends of the poor, particularly when it comes under the
deceitful garb of benevolence, and is likely, on that account, to
be cheerfully and cordially received by the common people.

I entirely acquit Mr Pitt of any sinister intention in that
clause of his Poor Bill which allows a shilling a week to every
labourer for each child he has above three. I confess, that
before the bill was brought into Parliament, and for some time
after, I thought that such a regulation would be highly
beneficial, but further reflection on the subject has convinced
me that if its object be to better the condition of the poor, it
is calculated to defeat the very purpose which it has in view. It
has no tendency that I can discover to increase the produce of
the country, and if. It tend to increase the population, without
increasing the produce, the necessary and inevitable consequence
appears to be that the same produce must be divided among a
greater number, and consequently that a day's labour will
purchase a smaller quantity of provisions, and the poor therefore
in general must be more distressed.

I have mentioned some cases where population may permanently
increase without a proportional increase in the means of
subsistence. But it is evident that the variation in different
states, between the food and the numbers supported by it, is
restricted to a limit beyond which it cannot pass. In every
country, the population of which is not absolutely decreasing,
the food must be necessarily sufficient to support, and to
continue, the race of labourers.

Other circumstances being the same, it may be affirmed that
countries are populous according to the quantity of human food
which they produce, and happy according to the liberality with
which that food is divided, or the quantity which a day's labour
will purchase. Corn countries are more populous than pasture
countries, and rice countries more populous than corn countries.
The lands in England are not suited to rice, but they would all
bear potatoes; and Dr Adam Smith observes that if potatoes were
to become the favourite vegetable food of the common people, and
if the same quantity of land was employed in their culture as is
now employed in the culture of corn, the country would be able to
support a much greater population, and would consequently in a
very short time have it.

The happiness of a country does not depend, absolutely, upon
its poverty or its riches, upon its youth or its age, upon its
being thinly or fully inhabited, but upon the rapidity with which
it is increasing, upon the degree in which the yearly increase of
food approaches to the yearly increase of an unrestricted
population. This approximation is always the nearest in new
colonies, where the knowledge and industry of an old state
operate on the fertile unappropriated land of a new one. In other
cases, the youth or the age of a state is not in this respect of
very great importance. It is probable that the food of Great
Britain is divided in as great plenty to the inhabitants, at the
present period, as it was two thousand, three thousand, or four
thousand years ago. And there is reason to believe that the poor
and thinly inhabited tracts of the Scotch Highlands are as much
distressed by an overcharged population as the rich and populous
province of Flanders.

Were a country never to be overrun by a people more advanced
in arts, but left to its own natural progress in civilization;
from the time that its produce might be considered as an unit, to
the time that it might be considered as a million, during the
lapse of many hundred years, there would not be a single period
when the mass of the people could be said to be free from
distress, either directly or indirectly, for want of food. In
every state in Europe, since we have first had accounts of it,
millions and millions of human existences have been repressed
from this simple cause; though perhaps in some of these states an
absolute famine has never been known.

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of
nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in
the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death
must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of
mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are
the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish
the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of
extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague,
advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten
thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic
inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow
levels the population with the food of the world.

Must it not then be acknowledged by an attentive examiner of
the histories of mankind, that in every age and in every state in
which man has existed, or does now exist.

That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the
means of subsistence.

That population does invariably increase when the means of
subsistence increase. And that the superior power of
population it repressed, and the actual population kept equal to
the means of subsistence, by misery and vice?


Mr Wallace--Error of supposing that the difficulty arising from
population is at a great distance--Mr Condorcet's sketch of the
progress of the human mind--Period when the oscillation,
mentioned by Mr Condorcet, ought to be applied to the human race.

To a person who draws the preceding obvious inferences, from a
view of the past and present state of mankind, it cannot but be a
matter of astonishment that all the writers on the perfectibility
of man and of society who have noticed the argument of an
overcharged population, treat it always very slightly and
invariably represent the difficulties arising from it as at a
great and almost immeasurable distance. Even Mr Wallace, who
thought the argument itself of so much weight as to destroy his
whole system of equality, did not seem to be aware that any
difficulty would occur from this cause till the whole earth had
been cultivated like a garden and was incapable of any further
increase of produce. Were this really the case, and were a
beautiful system of equality in other respects practicable, I
cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme
ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a
difficulty. An event at such a distance might fairly be left to
providence, but the truth is that if the view of the argument
given in this Essay be just the difficulty, so far from being
remote, would be imminent and immediate. At every period during
the progress of cultivation, from the present moment to the time
when the whole earth was become like a garden, the distress for
want of food would be constantly pressing on all mankind, if they
were equal. Though the produce of the earth might be increasing
every year, population would be increasing much faster, and the
redundancy must necessarily be repressed by the periodical or
constant action of misery or vice.

Mr Condorcet's Esquisse d'un Tableau Historique des Progres
de l'Esprit Humain, was written, it is said, under the pressure
of that cruel proscription which terminated in his death. If he
had no hopes of its being seen during his life and of its
interesting France in his favour, it is a singular instance of
the attachment of a man to principles, which every day's
experience was so fatally for himself contradicting. To see the
human mind in one of the most enlightened nations of the world,
and after a lapse of some thousand years, debased by such a
fermentation of disgusting passions, of fear, cruelty, malice,
revenge, ambition, madness, and folly as would have disgraced the
most savage nation in the most barbarous age must have been such
a tremendous shock to his ideas of the necessary and inevitable
progress of the human mind that nothing but the firmest
conviction of the truth of his principles, in spite of all
appearances, could have withstood.

This posthumous publication is only a sketch of a much larger
work, which he proposed should be executed. It necessarily,
therefore, wants that detail and application which can alone
prove the truth of any theory. A few observations will be
sufficient to shew how completely the theory is contradicted when
it is applied to the real, and not to an imaginary, state of

In the last division of the work, which treats of the future
progress of man towards perfection, he says, that comparing, in
the different civilized nations of Europe, the actual population
with the extent of territory, and observing their cultivation,
their industry, their divisions of labour, and their means of
subsistence, we shall see that it would be impossible to preserve
the same means of subsistence, and, consequently, the same
population, without a number of individuals who have no other
means of supplying their wants than their industry. Having
allowed the necessity of such a class of men, and adverting
afterwards to the precarious revenue of those families that would
depend so entirely on the life and health of their chief, he
says, very justly: 'There exists then, a necessary cause of
inequality, of dependence, and even of misery, which menaces,
without ceasing, the most numerous and active class of our
societies.' (To save time and long quotations, I shall here give
the substance of some of Mr Condorcet's sentiments, and hope I
shall not misrepresent them. But I refer the reader to the work
itself, which will amuse, if it does not convince him.) The
difficulty is just and well stated, and I am afraid that the mode
by which he proposes it should be removed will be found
inefficacious. By the application of calculations to the
probabilities of life and the interest of money, he proposes that
a fund should be established which should assure to the old an
assistance, produced, in part, by their own former savings, and,
in part, by the savings of individuals who in making the same
sacrifice die before they reap the benefit of it. The same, or a
similar fund, should give assistance to women and children who
lose their husbands, or fathers, and afford a capital to those
who were of an age to found a new family, sufficient for the
proper development of their industry. These establishments, he
observes, might be made in the name and under the protection of
the society. Going still further, he says that, by the just
application of calculations, means might be found of more
completely preserving a state of equality, by preventing credit
from being the exclusive privilege of great fortunes, and yet
giving it a basis equally solid, and by rendering the progress of
industry, and the activity of commerce, less dependent on great

Such establishments and calculations may appear very
promising upon paper, but when applied to real life they will be
found to be absolutely nugatory. Mr Condorcet allows that a class
of people which maintains itself entirely by industry is
necessary to every state. Why does he allow this? No other reason
can well be assigned than that he conceives that the labour
necessary to procure subsistence for an extended population will
not be performed without the goad of necessity. If by
establishments of this kind of spur to industry be removed, if
the idle and the negligent are placed upon the same footing with
regard to their credit, and the future support of their wives and
families, as the active and industrious, can we expect to see men
exert that animated activity in bettering their condition which
now forms the master spring of public prosperity? If an
inquisition were to be established to examine the claims of each
individual and to determine whether he had or had not exerted
himself to the utmost, and to grant or refuse assistance
accordingly, this would be little else than a repetition upon a
larger scale of the English poor laws and would be completely
destructive of the true principles of liberty and equality.

But independent of this great objection to these
establishments, and supposing for a moment that they would give
no check to productive industry, by far the greatest difficulty
remains yet behind.

Were every man sure of a comfortable provision for his
family, almost every man would have one, and were the rising
generation free from the 'killing frost' of misery, population
must rapidly increase. Of this Mr Condorcet seems to be fully
aware himself, and after having described further improvements,
he says:

But in this process of industry and happiness, each generation
will be called to more extended enjoyments, and in consequence,
by the physical constitution of the human frame, to an increase
in the number of individuals. Must not there arrive a period
then, when these laws, equally necessary, shall counteract each
other? When the increase of the number of men surpassing their
means of subsistence, the necessary result must be either a
continual diminution of happiness and population, a movement
truly retrograde, or, at least, a kind of oscillation between
good and evil? In societies arrived at this term, will not this
oscillation be a constantly subsisting cause of periodical
misery? Will it not mark the limit when all further amelioration
will become impossible, and point out that term to the
perfectibility of the human race which it may reach in the course
of ages, but can never pass?

He then adds,

There is no person who does not see how very distant such a
period is from us, but shall we ever arrive at it? It is equally
impossible to pronounce for or against the future realization of
an event which cannot take place but at an era when the human
race will have attained improvements, of which we can at present
scarcely form a conception.

Mr Condorcet's picture of what may be expected to happen when
the number of men shall surpass the means of their subsistence is
justly drawn. The oscillation which he describes will certainly
take place and will without doubt be a constantly subsisting
cause of periodical misery. The only point in which I differ from
Mr Condorcet with regard to this picture is the period when it
may be applied to the human race. Mr Condorcet thinks that it
cannot possibly be applicable but at an era extremely distant. If
the proportion between the natural increase of population and
food which I have given be in any degree near the truth, it will
appear, on the contrary, that the period when the number of men
surpass their means of subsistence has long since arrived, and
that this necessity oscillation, this constantly subsisting cause
of periodical misery, has existed ever since we have had any
histories of mankind, does exist at present, and will for ever
continue to exist, unless some decided change take place in the
physical constitution of our nature.

Mr Condorcet, however, goes on to say that should the period,
which he conceives to be so distant, ever arrive, the human race,
and the advocates for the perfectibility of man, need not be
alarmed at it. He then proceeds to remove the difficulty in a
manner which I profess not to understand. Having observed, that
the ridiculous prejudices of superstition would by that time have
ceased to throw over morals a corrupt and degrading austerity, he
alludes, either to a promiscuous concubinage, which would prevent
breeding, or to something else as unnatural. To remove the
difficulty in this way will, surely, in the opinion of most men,
be to destroy that virtue and purity of manners, which the
advocates of equality, and of the perfectibility of man, profess
to be the end and object of their views.


Mr Condorcet's conjecture concerning the organic perfectibility
of man, and the indefinite prolongation of human life--Fallacy
of the argument, which infers an unlimited progress from a
partial improvement, the limit of which cannot be ascertained,
illustrated in the breeding of animals, and the cultivation of

The last question which Mr Condorcet proposes for examination is
the organic perfectibility of man. He observes that if the proofs
which have been already given and which, in their development
will receive greater force in the work itself, are sufficient to
establish the indefinite perfectibility of man upon the
supposition of the same natural faculties and the same
organization which he has at present, what will be the certainty,
what the extent of our hope, if this organization, these natural
faculties themselves, are susceptible of amelioration?

From the improvement of medicine, from the use of more
wholesome food and habitations, from a manner of living which
will improve the strength of the body by exercise without
impairing it by excess, from the destruction of the two great
causes of the degradation of man, misery, and too great riches,
from the gradual removal of transmissible and contagious
disorders by the improvement of physical knowledge, rendered more
efficacious by the progress of reason and of social order, he
infers that though man will not absolutely become immortal, yet
that the duration between his birth and natural death will
increase without ceasing, will have no assignable term, and may
properly be expressed by the word 'indefinite'. He then defines
this word to mean either a constant approach to an unlimited
extent, without ever reaching it, or an increase. In the
immensity of ages to an extent greater than any assignable

But surely the application of this term in either of these
senses to the duration of human life is in the highest degree
unphilosophical and totally unwarranted by any appearances in the
laws of nature. Variations from different causes are essentially
distinct from a regular and unretrograde increase. The average
duration of human life will to a certain degree vary from healthy
or unhealthy climates, from wholesome or unwholesome food, from
virtuous or vicious manners, and other causes, but it may be
fairly doubted whether there is really the smallest perceptible
advance in the natural duration of human life since first we have
had any authentic history of man. The prejudices of all ages have
indeed been directly contrary to this supposition, and though I
would not lay much stress upon these prejudices, they will in
some measure tend to prove that there has been no marked advance
in an opposite direction.

It may perhaps be said that the world is yet so young, so
completely in its infancy, that it ought not to be expected that
any difference should appear so soon.

If this be the case, there is at once an end of all human
science. The whole train of reasonings from effects to causes
will be destroyed. We may shut our eyes to the book of nature, as
it will no longer be of any use to read it. The wildest and most
improbable conjectures may be advanced with as much certainty as
the most just and sublime theories, founded on careful and
reiterated experiments. We may return again to the old mode of
philosophising and make facts bend to systems, instead of
establishing systems upon facts. The grand and consistent theory
of Newton will be placed upon the same footing as the wild and
eccentric hypotheses of Descartes. In short, if the laws of
nature are thus fickle and inconstant, if it can be affirmed and
be believed that they will change, when for ages and ages they
have appeared immutable, the human mind will no longer have any
incitements to inquiry, but must remain fixed in inactive torpor,
or amuse itself only in bewildering dreams and extravagant

The constancy of the laws of nature and of effects and causes
is the foundation of all human knowledge, though far be it from
me to say that the same power which framed and executes the laws
of nature may not change them all 'in a moment, in the twinkling
of an eye.'  Such a change may undoubtedly happen. All that I
mean to say is that it is impossible to infer it from reasoning.
If without any previous observable symptoms or indications of a
change, we can infer that a change will take place, we may as
well make any assertion whatever and think it as unreasonable to
be contradicted in affirming that the moon will come in contact
with the earth tomorrow, as in saying that the sun will rise at
its usual time.

With regard to the duration of human life, there does not
appear to have existed from the earliest ages of the world to the
present moment the smallest permanent symptom or indication of
increasing prolongation. The observable effects of climate,
habit, diet, and other causes, on length of life have furnished
the pretext for asserting its indefinite extension; and the sandy
foundation on which the argument rests is that because the limit
of human life is undefined; because you cannot mark its precise
term, and say so far exactly shall it go and no further; that
therefore its extent may increase for ever, and be properly
termed indefinite or unlimited. But the fallacy and absurdity of
this argument will sufficiently appear from a slight examination
of what Mr Condorcet calls the organic perfectibility, or
degeneration, of the race of plants and animals, which he says
may be regarded as one of the general laws of nature.

I am told that it is a maxim among the improvers of cattle
that you may breed to any degree of nicety you please, and they
found this maxim upon another, which is that some of the
offspring will possess the desirable qualities of the parents in
a greater degree. In the famous Leicestershire breed of sheep,
the object is to procure them with small heads and small legs.
Proceeding upon these breeding maxims, it is evident that we
might go on till the heads and legs were evanescent quantities,
but this is so palpable an absurdity that we may be quite sure
that the premises are not just and that there really is a limit,
though we cannot see it or say exactly where it is. In this case,
the point of the greatest degree of improvement, or the smallest
size of the head and legs, may be said to be undefined, but this
is very different from unlimited, or from indefinite, in Mr
Condorcet's acceptation of the term. Though I may not be able in
the present instance to mark the limit at which further
improvement will stop, I can very easily mention a point at which
it will not arrive. I should not scruple to assert that were the
breeding to continue for ever, the head and legs of these sheep
would never be so small as the head and legs of a rat.

It cannot be true, therefore, that among animals, some of the
offspring will possess the desirable qualities of the parents in
a greater degree, or that animals are indefinitely perfectible.

The progress of a wild plant to a beautiful garden flower is
perhaps more marked and striking than anything that takes place
among animals, yet even here it would be the height of absurdity
to assert that the progress was unlimited or indefinite.

One of the most obvious features of the improvement is the
increase of size. The flower has grown gradually larger by
cultivation. If the progress were really unlimited it might be
increased ad infinitum, but this is so gross an absurdity that we
may be quite sure that among plants as well as among animals
there is a limit to improvement, though we do not exactly know
where it is. It is probable that the gardeners who contend for
flower prizes have often applied stronger dressing without
success. At the same time it would be highly presumptuous in any
man to say that he had seen the finest carnation or anemone that
could ever be made to grow. He might however assert without the
smallest chance of being contradicted by a future fact, that no
carnation or anemone could ever by cultivation be increased to
the size of a large cabbage; and yet there are assignable
quantities much greater than a cabbage. No man can say that he
has seen the largest ear of wheat, or the largest oak that could
ever grow; but he might easily, and with perfect certainty, name
a point of magnitude at which they would not arrive. In all these
cases therefore, a careful distinction should be made, between an
unlimited progress, and a progress where the limit is merely

It will be said, perhaps, that the reason why plants and
animals cannot increase indefinitely in size is, that they would
fall by their own weight. I answer, how do we know this but from
experience?--from experience of the degree of strength with
which these bodies are formed. I know that a carnation, long
before it reached the size of a cabbage, would not be supported
by its stalk, but I only know this from my experience of the
weakness and want of tenacity in the materials of a carnation
stalk. There are many substances in nature of the same size that
would support as large a head as a cabbage.

The reasons of the mortality of plants are at present
perfectly unknown to us. No man can say why such a plant is
annual, another biennial, and another endures for ages. The whole
affair in all these cases, in plants, animals, and in the human
race, is an affair of experience, and I only conclude that man is
mortal because the invariable experience of all ages has proved
the mortality of those materials of which his visible body is

What can we reason, but from what we know?

Sound philosophy will not authorize me to alter this opinion
of the mortality of man on earth, till it can be clearly proved
that the human race has made, and is making, a decided progress
towards an illimitable extent of life. And the chief reason why I
adduced the two particular instances from animals and plants was
to expose and illustrate, if I could, the fallacy of that
argument which infers an unlimited progress, merely because some
partial improvement has taken place, and that the limit of this
improvement cannot be precisely ascertained.

The capacity of improvement in plants and animals, to a
certain degree, no person can possibly doubt. A clear and decided
progress has already been made, and yet, I think, it appears that
it would be highly absurd to say that this progress has no
limits. In human life, though there are great variations from
different causes, it may be doubted whether, since the world
began, any organic improvement whatever in the human frame can be
clearly ascertained. The foundations, therefore, on which the
arguments for the organic perfectibility of man rest, are
unusually weak, and can only be considered as mere conjectures.
It does not, however, by any means seem impossible that by an
attention to breed, a certain degree of improvement, similar to
that among animals, might take place among men. Whether intellect
could be communicated may be a matter of doubt: but size,
strength, beauty, complexion, and perhaps even longevity are in a
degree transmissible. The error does not seem to lie in supposing
a small degree of improvement possible, but in not discriminating
between a small improvement, the limit of which is undefined, and
an improvement really unlimited. As the human race, however,
could not be improved in this way, without condemning all the bad
specimens to celibacy, it is not probable that an attention to
breed should ever become general; indeed, I know of no
well-directed attempts of this kind, except in the ancient family
of the Bickerstaffs, who are said to have been very successful in
whitening the skins and increasing the height of their race by
prudent marriages, particularly by that very judicious cross with
Maud, the milk-maid, by which some capital defects in the
constitutions of the family were corrected.

It will not be necessary, I think, in order more completely
to shew the improbability of any approach in man towards
immortality on earth, to urge the very great additional weight
that an increase in the duration of life would give to the
argument of population.

Many, I doubt not, will think that the attempting gravely to
controvert so absurd a paradox as the immortality of man on
earth, or indeed, even the perfectibility of man and society, is
a waste of time and words, and that such unfounded conjectures
are best answered by neglect. I profess, however, to be of a
different opinion. When paradoxes of this kind are advanced by
ingenious and able men, neglect has no tendency to convince them
of their mistakes. Priding themselves on what they conceive to be
a mark of the reach and size of their own understandings, of the
extent and comprehensiveness of their views, they will look upon
this neglect merely as an indication of poverty, and narrowness,
in the mental exertions of their contemporaries, and only think
that the world is not yet prepared to receive their sublime

On the contrary, a candid investigation of these subjects,
accompanied with a perfect readiness to adopt any theory
warranted by sound philosophy, may have a tendency to convince
them that in forming improbable and unfounded hypotheses, so far
from enlarging the bounds of human science, they are contracting
it, so far from promoting the improvement of the human mind, they
are obstructing it; they are throwing us back again almost into
the infancy of knowledge and weakening the foundations of that
mode of philosophising, under the auspices of which science has
of late made such rapid advances. The present rage for wide and
unrestrained speculation seems to be a kind of mental
intoxication, arising, perhaps, from the great and unexpected
discoveries which have been made of late years, in various
branches of science. To men elate and giddy with such successes,
every thing appeared to be within the grasp of human powers; and,
under this illusion, they confounded subjects where no real
progress could be proved with those where the progress had been
marked, certain, and acknowledged. Could they be persuaded to
sober themselves with a little severe and chastised thinking,
they would see, that the cause of truth, and of sound philosophy,
cannot but suffer by substituting wild flights and unsupported
assertions for patient investigation, and well authenticated

Mr Condorcet's book may be considered not only as a sketch of
the opinions of a celebrated individual, but of many of the
literary men in France at the beginning of the Revolution. As
such, though merely a sketch, it seems worthy of attention.


Mr Godwin's system of equality--Error of attributing all the
vices of mankind to human institutions--Mr Godwin's first answer
to the difficulty arising from population totally insufficient--
Mr Godwin's beautiful system of equality supposed to be realized
--Its utter destruction simply from the principle of population in
so short a time as thirty years.

In reading Mr Godwin's ingenious and able work on political
justice, it is impossible not to be struck with the spirit and
energy of his style, the force and precision of some of his
reasonings, the ardent tone of his thoughts, and particularly
with that impressive earnestness of manner which gives an air of
truth to the whole. At the same time, it must be confessed that
he has not proceeded in his inquiries with the caution that sound
philosophy seems to require. His conclusions are often
unwarranted by his premises. He fails sometimes in removing the
objections which he himself brings forward. He relies too much on
general and abstract propositions which will not admit of
application. And his conjectures certainly far outstrip the
modesty of nature.

The system of equality which Mr Godwin proposes is, without
doubt, by far the most beautiful and engaging of any that has yet
appeared. An amelioration of society to be produced merely by
reason and conviction wears much more the promise of permanence
than any change effected and maintained by force. The unlimited
exercise of private judgement is a doctrine inexpressibly grand
and captivating and has a vast superiority over those systems
where every individual is in a manner the slave of the public.
The substitution of benevolence as the master-spring and moving
principle of society, instead of self-love, is a consummation
devoutly to be wished. In short, it is impossible to contemplate
the whole of this fair structure without emotions of delight and
admiration, accompanied with ardent longing for the period of its
accomplishment. But, alas! that moment can never arrive. The
whole is little better than a dream, a beautiful phantom of the
imagination. These 'gorgeous palaces' of happiness and
immortality, these 'solemn temples' of truth and virtue will
dissolve, 'like the baseless fabric of a vision', when we awaken
to real life and contemplate the true and genuine situation of
man on earth. Mr Godwin, at the conclusion of the third chapter
of his eighth book, speaking of population, says:

There is a principle in human society, by which population is
perpetually kept down to the level of the means of subsistence.
Thus among the wandering tribes of America and Asia, we never
find through the lapse of ages that population has so increased
as to render necessary the cultivation of the earth.

This principle, which Mr Godwin thus mentions as some
mysterious and occult cause and which he does not attempt to
investigate, will be found to be the grinding law of necessity,
misery, and the fear of misery.

The great error under which Mr Godwin labours throughout his
whole work is the attributing almost all the vices and misery
that are seen in civil society to human institutions. Political
regulations and the established administration of property are
with him the fruitful sources of all evil, the hotbeds of all the
crimes that degrade mankind. Were this really a true state of the
case, it would not seem a hopeless task to remove evil completely
from the world, and reason seems to be the proper and adequate
instrument for effecting so great a purpose. But the truth is,
that though human institutions appear to be the obvious and
obtrusive causes of much mischief to mankind, yet in reality they
are light and superficial, they are mere feathers that float on
the surface, in comparison with those deeper seated causes of
impurity that corrupt the springs and render turbid the whole
stream of human life.

Mr Godwin, in his chapter on the benefits attendant on a
system of equality, says:

The spirit of oppression, the spirit of servility, and the
spirit of fraud, these are the immediate growth of the
established administration of property. They are alike hostile to
intellectual improvement. The other vices of envy, malice, and
revenge are their inseparable companions. In a state of society
where men lived in the midst of plenty and where all shared alike
the bounties of nature, these sentiments would inevitably expire.
The narrow principle of selfishness would vanish. No man being
obliged to guard his little store or provide with anxiety and
pain for his restless wants, each would lose his individual
existence in the thought of the general good. No man would be an
enemy to his neighbour, for they would have no subject of
contention, and, of consequence, philanthropy would resume the
empire which reason assigns her. Mind would be delivered from her
perpetual anxiety about corporal support, and free to expatiate
in the field of thought, which is congenial to her. Each would
assist the inquiries of all.

This would, indeed, be a happy state. But that it is merely
an imaginary picture, with scarcely a feature near the truth, the
reader, I am afraid, is already too well convinced.

Man cannot live in the midst of plenty. All cannot share
alike the bounties of nature. Were there no established
administration of property, every man would be obliged to guard
with force his little store. Selfishness would be triumphant. The
subjects of contention would be perpetual. Every individual mind
would be under a constant anxiety about corporal support, and not
a single intellect would be left free to expatiate in the field
of thought.

How little Mr Godwin has turned the attention of his
penetrating mind to the real state of man on earth will
sufficiently appear from the manner in which he endeavours to
remove the difficulty of an overcharged population. He says:

The obvious answer to this objection, is, that to reason thus
is to foresee difficulties at a great distance. Three fourths of
the habitable globe is now uncultivated. The parts already
cultivated are capable of immeasurable improvement. Myriads of
centuries of still increasing population may pass away, and the
earth be still found sufficient for the subsistence of its

I have already pointed out the error of supposing that no
distress and difficulty would arise from an overcharged
population before the earth absolutely refused to produce any
more. But let us imagine for a moment Mr Godwin's beautiful
system of equality realized in its utmost purity, and see how
soon this difficulty might be expected to press under so perfect
a form of society. A theory that will not admit of application
cannot possibly be just.

Let us suppose all the causes of misery and vice in this
island removed. War and contention cease. Unwholesome trades and
manufactories do not exist. Crowds no longer collect together in
great and pestilent cities for purposes of court intrigue, of
commerce, and vicious gratifications. Simple, healthy, and
rational amusements take place of drinking, gaming, and
debauchery. There are no towns sufficiently large to have any
prejudicial effects on the human constitution. The greater part
of the happy inhabitants of this terrestrial paradise live in
hamlets and farmhouses scattered over the face of the country.
Every house is clean, airy, sufficiently roomy, and in a healthy
situation. All men are equal. The labours of luxury are at end.
And the necessary labours of agriculture are shared amicably
among all. The number of persons, and the produce of the island,
we suppose to be the same as at present. The spirit of
benevolence, guided by impartial justice, will divide this
produce among all the members of the society according to their
wants. Though it would be impossible that they should all have
animal food every day, yet vegetable food, with meat
occasionally, would satisfy the desires of a frugal people and
would be sufficient to preserve them in health, strength, and

Mr Godwin considers marriage as a fraud and a monopoly. Let
us suppose the commerce of the sexes established upon principles
of the most perfect freedom. Mr Godwin does not think himself
that this freedom would lead to a promiscuous intercourse, and in
this I perfectly agree with him. The love of variety is a
vicious, corrupt, and unnatural taste and could not prevail in
any great degree in a simple and virtuous state of society. Each
man would probably select himself a partner, to whom he would
adhere as long as that adherence continued to be the choice of
both parties. It would be of little consequence, according to Mr
Godwin, how many children a woman had or to whom they belonged.
Provisions and assistance would spontaneously flow from the
quarter in which they abounded, to the quarter that was
deficient. (See Bk VIII, ch. 8; in the third edition, Vol II, p.
512) And every man would be ready to furnish instruction to the
rising generation according to his capacity.

I cannot conceive a form of society so favourable upon the
whole to population. The irremediableness of marriage, as it is
at present constituted, undoubtedly deters many from entering
into that state. An unshackled intercourse on the contrary would
be a most powerful incitement to early attachments, and as we are
supposing no anxiety about the future support of children to
exist, I do not conceive that there would be one woman in a
hundred, of twenty-three, without a family.

With these extraordinary encouragements to population, and
every cause of depopulation, as we have supposed, removed, the
numbers would necessarily increase faster than in any society
that has ever yet been known. I have mentioned, on the authority
of a pamphlet published by a Dr Styles and referred to by Dr
Price, that the inhabitants of the back settlements of America
doubled their numbers in fifteen years. England is certainly a
more healthy country than the back settlements of America, and as
we have supposed every house in the island to be airy and
wholesome, and the encouragements to have a family greater even
than with the back settlers, no probable reason can be assigned
why the population should not double itself in less, if possible,
than fifteen years. But to be quite sure that we do not go beyond
the truth, we will only suppose the period of doubling to be
twenty-five years, a ratio of increase which is well known to
have taken place throughout all the Northern States of America.

There can be little doubt that the equalization of property
which we have supposed, added to the circumstance of the labour
of the whole community being directed chiefly to agriculture,
would tend greatly to augment the produce of the country. But to
answer the demands of a population increasing so rapidly, Mr
Godwin's calculation of half an hour a day for each man would
certainly not be sufficient. It is probable that the half of
every man's time must be employed for this purpose. Yet with
such, or much greater exertions, a person who is acquainted with
the nature of the soil in this country, and who reflects on the
fertility of the lands already in cultivation, and the barrenness
of those that are not cultivated, will be very much disposed to
doubt whether the whole average produce could possibly be doubled
in twenty-five years from the present period. The only chance of
success would be the ploughing up all the grazing countries and
putting an end almost entirely to the use of animal food. Yet a
part of this scheme might defeat itself. The soil of England will
not produce much without dressing, and cattle seem to be
necessary to make that species of manure which best suits the
land. In China it is said that the soil in some of the provinces
is so fertile as to produce two crops of rice in the year without
dressing. None of the lands in England will answer to this

Difficult, however, as it might be to double the average
produce of the island in twenty-five years, let us suppose it
effected. At the expiration of the first period therefore, the
food, though almost entirely vegetable, would be sufficient to
support in health the doubled population of fourteen millions.

During the next period of doubling, where will the food be
found to satisfy the importunate demands of the increasing
numbers? Where is the fresh land to turn up? Where is the
dressing necessary to improve that which is already in
cultivation? There is no person with the smallest knowledge of
land but would say that it was impossible that the average
produce of the country could be increased during the second
twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what it at present
yields. Yet we will suppose this increase, however improbable, to
take place. The exuberant strength of the argument allows of
almost any concession. Even with this concession, however, there
would be seven millions at the expiration of the second term
unprovided for. A quantity of food equal to the frugal support of
twenty-one millions, would be to be divided among twenty-eight

Alas! what becomes of the picture where men lived in the
midst of plenty, where no man was obliged to provide with anxiety
and pain for his restless wants, where the narrow principle of
selfishness did not exist, where Mind was delivered from her
perpetual anxiety about corporal support and free to expatiate in
the field of thought which is congenial to her. This beautiful
fabric of imagination vanishes at the severe touch of truth. The
spirit of benevolence, cherished and invigorated by plenty, is
repressed by the chilling breath of want. The hateful passions
that had vanished reappear. The mighty law of self-preservation
expels all the softer and more exalted emotions of the soul. The
temptations to evil are too strong for human nature to resist.
The corn is plucked before it is ripe, or secreted in unfair
proportions, and the whole black train of vices that belong to
falsehood are immediately generated. Provisions no longer flow in
for the support of the mother with a large family. The children
are sickly from insufficient food. The rosy flush of health gives
place to the pallid cheek and hollow eye of misery. Benevolence,
yet lingering in a few bosoms, makes some faint expiring
struggles, till at length self-love resumes his wonted empire and
lords it triumphant over the world.

No human institutions here existed, to the perverseness of
which Mr Godwin ascribes the original sin of the worst men. (Bk
VIII, ch. 3; in the third edition, Vol. II, p. 462) No opposition
had been produced by them between public and private good. No
monopoly had been created of those advantages which reason
directs to be left in common. No man had been goaded to the
breach of order by unjust laws. Benevolence had established her
reign in all hearts: and yet in so short a period as within fifty
years, violence, oppression, falsehood, misery, every hateful
vice, and every form of distress, which degrade and sadden the
present state of society, seem to have been generated by the most
imperious circumstances, by laws inherent in the nature of man,
and absolutely independent of it human regulations.

If we are not yet too well convinced of the reality of this
melancholy picture, let us but look for a moment into the next
period of twenty-five years; and we shall see twenty-eight
millions of human beings without the means of support; and before
the conclusion of the first century, the population would be one
hundred and twelve millions, and the food only sufficient for
thirty-five millions, leaving seventy-seven millions unprovided
for. In these ages want would be indeed triumphant, and rapine
and murder must reign at large: and yet all this time we are
supposing the produce of the earth absolutely unlimited, and the
yearly increase greater than the boldest speculator can imagine.

This is undoubtedly a very different view of the difficulty
arising from population from that which Mr Godwin gives, when he
says, 'Myriads of centuries of still increasing population may
pass away, and the earth be still found sufficient for the
subsistence of its inhabitants.'

I am sufficiently aware that the redundant twenty-eight
millions, or seventy-seven millions, that I have mentioned, could
never have existed. It is a perfectly just observation of Mr
Godwin, that, 'There is a principle in human society, by which
population is perpetually kept down to the level of the means of
subsistence.' The sole question is, what is this principle? is it
some obscure and occult cause? Is it some mysterious interference
of heaven which, at a certain period, strikes the men with
impotence, and the women with barrenness? Or is it a cause, open
to our researches, within our view, a cause, which has constantly
been observed to operate, though with varied force, in every
state in which man has been placed? Is it not a degree of misery,
the necessary and inevitable result of the laws of nature, which
human institutions, so far from aggravating, have tended
considerably to mitigate, though they never can remove?

It may be curious to observe, in the case that we have been
supposing, how some of the laws which at present govern civilized
society, would be successively dictated by the most imperious
necessity. As man, according to Mr Godwin, is the creature of the
impressions to which he is subject, the goadings of want could
not continue long, before some violations of public or private
stock would necessarily take place. As these violations increased
in number and extent, the more active and comprehensive
intellects of the society would soon perceive, that while
population was fast increasing, the yearly produce of the country
would shortly begin to diminish. The urgency of the case would
suggest the necessity of some mediate measures to be taken for
the general safety. Some kind of convention would then be called,
and the dangerous situation of the country stated in the
strongest terms. It would be observed, that while they lived in
the midst of plenty, it was of little consequence who laboured
the least, or who possessed the least, as every man was perfectly
willing and ready to supply the wants of his neighbour. But that
the question was no longer whether one man should give to another
that which he did not use himself, but whether he should give to
his neighbour the food which was absolutely necessary to his own
existence. It would be represented, that the number of those that
were in want very greatly exceeded the number and means of those
who should supply them; that these pressing wants, which from the
state of the produce of the country could not all be gratified,
had occasioned some flagrant violations of justice; that these
violations had already checked the increase of food, and would,
if they were not by some means or other prevented, throw the
whole community in confusion; that imperious necessity seemed to
dictate that a yearly increase of produce should, if possible, be
obtained at all events; that in order to effect this first,
great, and indispensable purpose, it would be advisable to make a
more complete division of land, and to secure every man's stock
against violation by the most powerful sanctions, even by death

It might be urged perhaps by some objectors that, as the
fertility of the land increased, and various accidents occurred,
the share of some men might be much more than sufficient for
their support, and that when the reign of self-love was once
established, they would not distribute their surplus produce
without some compensation in return. It would be observed, in
answer, that this was an inconvenience greatly to be lamented;
but that it was an evil which bore no comparison to the black
train of distresses that would inevitably be occasioned by the
insecurity of property; that the quantity of food which one man
could consume was necessarily limited by the narrow capacity of
the human stomach; that it was not certainly probable that he
should throw away the rest; but that even if he exchanged his
surplus food for the labour of others, and made them in some
degree dependent on him, this would still be better than that
these others should absolutely starve.

It seems highly probable, therefore, that an administration
of property, not very different from that which prevails in
civilized states at present, would be established, as the best,
though inadequate, remedy for the evils which were pressing on
the society.

The next subject that would come under discussion, intimately
connected with the preceding, is the commerce between the sexes.
It would be urged by those who had turned their attention to the
true cause of the difficulties under which the community
laboured, that while every man felt secure that all his children
would be well provided for by general benevolence, the powers of
the earth would be absolutely inadequate to produce food for the
population which would inevitably ensue; that even if the whole
attention and labour of the society were directed to this sole
point, and if, by the most perfect security of property, and
every other encouragement that could be thought of, the greatest
possible increase of produce were yearly obtained; yet still,
that the increase of food would by no means keep pace with the
much more rapid increase of population; that some check to
population therefore was imperiously called for; that the most
natural and obvious check seemed to be to make every man provide
for his own children; that this would operate in some respect as
a measure and guide in the increase of population, as it might be
expected that no man would bring beings into the world, for whom
he could not find the means of support; that where this
notwithstanding was the case, it seemed necessary, for the
example of others, that the disgrace and inconvenience attending
such a conduct should fall upon the individual, who had thus
inconsiderately plunged himself and innocent children in misery
and want.

The institution of marriage, or at least, of some express or
implied obligation on every man to support his own children,
seems to be the natural result of these reasonings in a community
under the difficulties that we have supposed.

The view of these difficulties presents us with a very
natural origin of the superior disgrace which attends a breach of
chastity in the woman than in the man. It could not be expected
that women should have resources sufficient to support their own
children. When therefore a woman was connected with a man, who
had entered into no compact to maintain her children, and, aware
of the inconveniences that he might bring upon himself, had
deserted her, these children must necessarily fall for support
upon the society, or starve. And to prevent the frequent
recurrence of such an inconvenience, as it would be highly unjust
to punish so natural a fault by personal restraint or infliction,
the men might agree to punish it with disgrace. The offence is
besides more obvious and conspicuous in the woman, and less
liable to any mistake. The father of a child may not always be
known, but the same uncertainty cannot easily exist with regard
to the mother. Where the evidence of the offence was most
complete, and the inconvenience to the society at the same time
the greatest, there it was agreed that the large share of blame
should fall. The obligation on every man to maintain his
children, the society would enforce, if there were occasion; and
the greater degree of inconvenience or labour, to which a family
would necessarily subject him, added to some portion of disgrace
which every human being must incur who leads another into
unhappiness, might be considered as a sufficient punishment for
the man.

That a woman should at present be almost driven from society
for an offence which men commit nearly with impunity, seems to be
undoubtedly a breach of natural justice. But the origin of the
custom, as the most obvious and effectual method of preventing
the frequent recurrence of a serious inconvenience to a
community, appears to be natural, though not perhaps perfectly
justifiable. This origin, however, is now lost in the new train
of ideas which the custom has since generated. What at first
might be dictated by state necessity is now supported by female
delicacy, and operates with the greatest force on that part of
society where, if the original intention of the custom were
preserved, there is the least real occasion for it.

When these two fundamental laws of society, the security of
property, and the institution of marriage, were once established,
inequality of conditions must necessarily follow. Those who were
born after the division of property would come into a world
already possessed. If their parents, from having too large a
family, could not give them sufficient for their support, what
are they to do in a world where everything is appropriated? We
have seen the fatal effects that would result to a society, if
every man had a valid claim to an equal share of the produce of
the earth. The members of a family which was grown too large for
the original division of land appropriated to it could not then
demand a part of the surplus produce of others, as a debt of
justice. It has appeared, that from the inevitable laws of our
nature some human beings must suffer from want. These are the
unhappy persons who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a
blank. The number of these claimants would soon exceed the
ability of the surplus produce to supply. Moral merit is a very
difficult distinguishing criterion, except in extreme cases. The
owners of surplus produce would in general seek some more obvious
mark of distinction. And it seems both natural and just that,
except upon particular occasions, their choice should fall upon
those who were able, and professed themselves willing, to exert
their strength in procuring a further surplus produce; and thus
at once benefiting the community, and enabling these proprietors
to afford assistance to greater numbers. All who were in want of
food would be urged by imperious necessity to offer their labour
in exchange for this article so absolutely essential to
existence. The fund appropriated to the maintenance of labour
would be the aggregate quantity of food possessed by the owners
of land beyond their own consumption. When the demands upon this
fund were great and numerous, it would naturally be divided in
very small shares. Labour would be ill paid. Men would offer to
work for a bare subsistence, and the rearing of families would be
checked by sickness and misery. On the contrary, when this fund
was increasing fast, when it was great in proportion to the
number of claimants, it would be divided in much larger shares.
No man would exchange his labour without receiving an ample
quantity of food in return. Labourers would live in ease and
comfort, and would consequently be able to rear a numerous and
vigorous offspring.

On the state of this fund, the happiness, or the degree of
misery, prevailing among the lower classes of people in every
known state at present chiefly depends. And on this happiness, or
degree of misery, depends the increase, stationariness, or
decrease of population.

And thus it appears, that a society constituted according to
the most beautiful form that imagination can conceive, with
benevolence for its moving principle, instead of self-love, and
with every evil disposition in all its members corrected by
reason and not force, would, from the inevitable laws of nature,
and not from any original depravity of man, in a very short
period degenerate into a society constructed upon a plan not
essentially different from that which prevails in every known
state at present; I mean, a society divided into a class of
proprietors, and a class of labourers, and with self-love the
main-spring of the great machine.

In the supposition I have made, I have undoubtedly taken the
increase of population smaller, and the increase of produce
greater, than they really would be. No reason can be assigned
why, under the circumstances I have supposed, population should
not increase faster than in any known instance. If then we were
to take the period of doubling at fifteen years, instead of
twenty-five years, and reflect upon the labour necessary to
double the produce in so short a time, even if we allow it
possible, we may venture to pronounce with certainty that if Mr
Godwin's system of society was established in its utmost
perfection, instead of myriads of centuries, not thirty years
could elapse before its utter destruction from the simple
principle of population.

I have taken no notice of emigration for obvious reasons. If
such societies were instituted in other parts of Europe, these
countries would be under the same difficulties with regard to
population, and could admit no fresh members into their bosoms.
If this beautiful society were confined to this island, it must
have degenerated strangely from its original purity, and
administer but a very small portion of the happiness it proposed;
in short, its essential principle must be completely destroyed,
before any of its members would voluntarily consent to leave it,
and live under such governments as at present exist in Europe, or
submit to the extreme hardships of first settlers in new regions.
We well know, from repeated experience, how much misery and
hardship men will undergo in their own country, before they can
determine to desert it; and how often the most tempting proposals
of embarking for new settlements have been rejected by people who
appeared to be almost starving.


Mr Godwin's conjecture concerning the future extinction of the
passion between the sexes--Little apparent grounds for such a
conjecture--Passion of love not inconsistent either with reason
or virtue.

We have supported Mr Godwin's system of society once completely
established. But it is supposing an impossibility. The same
causes in nature which would destroy it so rapidly, were it once
established, would prevent the possibility of its establishment.
And upon what grounds we can presume a change in these natural
causes, I am utterly at a loss to conjecture. No move towards the
extinction of the passion between the sexes has taken place in
the five or six thousand years that the world has existed. Men in
the decline of life have in all ages declaimed against a passion
which they have ceased to feel, but with as little reason as
success. Those who from coldness of constitutional temperament
have never felt what love is, will surely be allowed to be very
incompetent judges with regard to the power of this passion to
contribute to the sum of pleasurable sensations in life. Those
who have spent their youth in criminal excesses and have prepared
for themselves, as the comforts of their age, corporeal debility
and mental remorse may well inveigh against such pleasures as
vain and futile, and unproductive of lasting satisfaction. But
the pleasures of pure love will bear the contemplation of the
most improved reason, and the most exalted virtue. Perhaps there
is scarcely a man who has once experienced the genuine delight of
virtuous love, however great his intellectual pleasure may have
been, that does not look back to the period as the sunny spot in
his whole life, where his imagination loves to bask, which he
recollects and contemplates with the fondest regrets, and which
he would most wish to live over again. The superiority of
intellectual to sensual pleasures consists rather in their
filling up more time, in their having a larger range, and in
their being less liable to satiety, than in their being more real
and essential.

Intemperance in every enjoyment defeats its own purpose. A
walk in the finest day through the most beautiful country, if
pursued too far, ends in pain and fatigue. The most wholesome and
invigorating food, eaten with an unrestrained appetite, produces
weakness instead of strength. Even intellectual pleasures, though
certainly less liable than others to satiety, pursued with too
little intermission, debilitate the body, and impair the vigour
of the mind. To argue against the reality of these pleasures from
their abuse seems to be hardly just. Morality, according to Mr
Godwin, is a calculation of consequences, or, as Archdeacon Paley
very justly expresses it, the will of God, as collected from
general expediency. According to either of these definitions, a
sensual pleasure not attended with the probability of unhappy
consequences does not offend against the laws of morality, and if
it be pursued with such a degree of temperance as to leave the
most ample room for intellectual attainments, it must undoubtedly
add to the sum of pleasurable sensations in life. Virtuous love,
exalted by friendship, seems to be that sort of mixture of
sensual and intellectual enjoyment particularly suited to the
nature of man, and most powerfully calculated to awaken the
sympathies of the soul, and produce the most exquisite

Mr Godwin says, in order to shew the evident inferiority of
the pleasures of sense, 'Strip the commerce of the sexes of all
its attendant circumstances, and it would be generally despised'
(Bk. I, ch. 5; in the third edition, Vol. I, pp. 71-72). He might
as well say to a man who admired trees: strip them of their
spreading branches and lovely foliage, and what beauty can you
see in a bare pole? But it was the tree with the branches and
foliage, and not without them, that excited admiration. One
feature of an object may be as distinct, and excite as different
emotions, from the aggregate as any two things the most remote,
as a beautiful woman, and a map of Madagascar. It is 'the
symmetry of person, the vivacity, the voluptuous softness of
temper, the affectionate kindness of feelings, the imagination
and the wit' of a woman that excite the passion of love, and not
the mere distinction of her being female. Urged by the passion of
love, men have been driven into acts highly prejudicial to the
general interests of society, but probably they would have found
no difficulty in resisting the temptation, had it appeared in the
form of a woman with no other attractions whatever but her sex.
To strip sensual pleasures of all their adjuncts, in order to
prove their inferiority, is to deprive a magnet of some of its
most essential causes of attraction, and then to say that it is
weak and inefficient.

In the pursuit of every enjoyment, whether sensual or
intellectual, reason, that faculty which enables us to calculate
consequences, is the proper corrective and guide. It is probable
therefore that improved reason will always tend to prevent the
abuse of sensual pleasures, though it by no means follows that it
will extinguish them.

I have endeavoured to expose the fallacy of that argument
which infers an unlimited progress from a partial improvement,
the limits of which cannot be exactly ascertained. It has
appeared, I think, that there are many instances in which a
decided progress has been observed, where yet it would be a gross
absurdity to suppose that progress indefinite. But towards the
extinction of the passion between the sexes, no observable
progress whatever has hitherto been made. To suppose such an
extinction, therefore, is merely to offer an unfounded
conjecture, unsupported by any philosophical probabilities.

It is a truth, which history I am afraid makes too clear,
that some men of the highest mental powers have been addicted not
only to a moderate, but even to an immoderate indulgence in the
pleasures of sensual love. But allowing, as I should be inclined
to do, notwithstanding numerous instances to the contrary, that
great intellectual exertions tend to diminish the empire of this
passion over man, it is evident that the mass of mankind must be
improved more highly than the brightest ornaments of the species
at present before any difference can take place sufficient
sensibly to affect population. I would by no means suppose that
the mass of mankind has reached its term of improvement, but the
principal argument of this essay tends to place in a strong point
of view the improbability that the lower classes of people in any
country should ever be sufficiently free from want and labour to
obtain any high degree of intellectual improvement.


Mr Godwin's conjecture concerning the indefinite prolongation of
human life--Improper inference drawn from the effects of mental
stimulants on the human frame, illustrated in various instances--
Conjectures not founded on any indications in the past not to be
considered as philosophical conjectures--Mr Godwin's and Mr
Condorcet's conjecture respecting the approach of man towards
immortality on earth, a curious instance of the inconsistency of

Mr Godwin's conjecture respecting the future approach of man
towards immortality on earth seems to be rather oddly placed in a
chapter which professes to remove the objection to his system of
equality from the principle of population. Unless he supposes the
passion between the sexes to decrease faster than the duration of
life increases, the earth would be more encumbered than ever. But
leaving this difficulty to Mr Godwin, let us examine a few of the
appearances from which the probable immortality of man is

To prove the power of the mind over the body, Mr Godwin
observes, "How often do we find a piece of good news dissipating a
distemper? How common is the remark that those accidents which
are to the indolent a source of disease are forgotten and
extirpated in the busy and active? I walk twenty miles in an
indolent and half determined temper and am extremely fatigued. I
walk twenty miles full of ardour, and with a motive that
engrosses my soul, and I come in as fresh and as alert as when I
began my journey. Emotion excited by some unexpected word, by a
letter that is delivered to us, occasions the most extraordinary
revolutions in our frame, accelerates the circulation, causes the
heart to palpitate, the tongue to refuse its office, and has been
known to occasion death by extreme anguish or extreme joy. There
is nothing indeed of which the physician is more aware than of
the power of the mind in assisting or reading convalescence."

The instances here mentioned are chiefly instances of the
effects of mental stimulants on the bodily frame. No person has
ever for a moment doubted the near, though mysterious, connection
of mind and body. But it is arguing totally without knowledge of
the nature of stimulants to suppose, either that they can be
applied continually with equal strength, or if they could be so
applied, for a time, that they would not exhaust and wear out the
subject. In some of the cases here noticed, the strength of the
stimulus depends upon its novelty and unexpectedness. Such a
stimulus cannot, from its nature, be repeated often with the same
effect, as it would by repetition lose that property which gives
it its strength.

In the other cases, the argument is from a small and partial
effect, to a great and general effect, which will in numberless
instances be found to be a very fallacious mode of reasoning. The
busy and active man may in some degree counteract, or what is
perhaps nearer the truth, may disregard those slight disorders of
frame which fix the attention of a man who has nothing else to
think of; but this does not tend to prove that activity of mind
will enable a man to disregard a high fever, the smallpox, or the

The man who walks twenty miles with a motive that engrosses
his soul does not attend to his slight fatigue of body when he
comes in; but double his motive, and set him to walk another
twenty miles, quadruple it, and let him start a third time, and
so on; and the length of his walk will ultimately depend upon
muscle and not mind. Powell, for a motive of ten guineas, would
have walked further probably than Mr Godwin, for a motive of half
a million. A motive of uncommon power acting upon a frame of
moderate strength would, perhaps, make the man kill himself by
his exertions, but it would not make him walk a hundred miles in
twenty-four hours. This statement of the case shews the fallacy
of supposing that the person was really not at all tired in his
first walk of twenty miles, because he did not appear to be so,
or, perhaps, scarcely felt any fatigue himself. The mind cannot
fix its attention strongly on more than one object at once. The
twenty thousand pounds so engrossed his thoughts that he did not
attend to any slight soreness of foot, or stiffness of limb. But
had he been really as fresh and as alert, as when he first set
off, he would be able to go the second twenty miles with as much
ease as the first, and so on, the third, &c. Which leads to a
palpable absurdity. When a horse of spirit is nearly half tired,
by the stimulus of the spur, added to the proper management of
the bit, he may be put so much upon his mettle, that he would
appear to a standerby, as fresh and as high spirited as if he had
not gone a mile. Nay, probably, the horse himself, while in the
heat and passion occasioned by this stimulus, would not feel any
fatigue; but it would be strangely contrary to all reason and
experience, to argue from such an appearance that, if the
stimulus were continued, the horse would never be tired. The cry
of a pack of hounds will make some horses, after a journey of
forty miles on the road, appear as fresh, and as lively, as when
they first set out. Were they then to be hunted, no perceptible
abatement would at first be felt by their riders in their
strength and spirits, but towards the end of a hard day, the
previous fatigue would have its full weight and effect, and make
them tire sooner. When I have taken a long walk with my gun, and
met with no success, I have frequently returned home feeling a
considerable degree of uncomfortableness from fatigue. Another
day, perhaps, going over nearly the same extent of ground with a
good deal of sport, I have come home fresh, and alert. The
difference in the sensation of fatigue upon coming in, on the
different days, may have been very striking, but on the following
mornings I have found no such difference. I have not perceived
that I was less stiff in my limbs, or less footsore, on the
morning after the day of the sport, than on the other morning.

In all these cases, stimulants upon the mind seem to act
rather by taking off the attention from the bodily fatigue, than
by really and truly counteracting it. If the energy of my mind
had really counteracted the fatigue of my body, why should I feel
tired the next morning? if the stimulus of the hounds had as
completely overcome the fatigue of the journey in reality, as it
did in appearance, why should the horse be tired sooner than if
he had not gone the forty miles? I happen to have a very bad fit
of the toothache at the time I am writing this. In the eagerness
of composition, I every now and then, for a moment or two, forget
it. Yet I cannot help thinking that the process, which causes the
pain, is still going forwards, and that the nerves which carry
the information of it to the brain are even during these moments
demanding attention and room for their appropriate vibrations.
The multiplicity of vibrations of another kind may perhaps
prevent their admission, or overcome them for a time when
admitted, till a shoot of extraordinary energy puts all other
vibration to the rout, destroys the vividness of my argumentative
conceptions, and rides triumphant in the brain. In this case, as
in the others, the mind seems to have little or no power in
counteracting or curing the disorder, but merely possesses a
power, if strongly excited, of fixing its attention on other

I do not, however, mean to say that a sound and vigorous mind
has no tendency whatever to keep the body in a similar state. So
close and intimate is the union of mind and body that it would be
highly extraordinary if they did not mutually assist each other's
functions. But, perhaps, upon a comparison, the body has more
effect upon the mind than the mind upon the body. The first
object of the mind is to act as purveyor to the wants of the
body. When these wants are completely satisfied, an active mind
is indeed apt to wander further, to range over the fields of
science, or sport in the regions of. Imagination, to fancy that
it has 'shuffled off this mortal coil', and is seeking its
kindred element. But all these efforts are like the vain
exertions of the hare in the fable. The slowly moving tortoise,
the body, never fails to overtake the mind, however widely and
extensively it may have ranged, and the brightest and most
energetic intellects, unwillingly as they may attend to the first
or second summons, must ultimately yield the empire of the brain
to the calls of hunger, or sink with the exhausted body in sleep.

It seems as if one might say with certainty that if a
medicine could be found to immortalize the body there would be no
fear of its [not] being accompanied by the immortality of the
mind. But the immortality of the mind by no means seems to infer
the immortality of the body. On the contrary, the greatest
conceivable energy of mind would probably exhaust and destroy the
strength of the body. A temperate vigour of mind appears to be
favourable to health, but very great intellectual exertions tend
rather, as has been often observed, to wear out the scabbard.
Most of the instances which Mr Godwin has brought to prove the
power of the mind over the body, and the consequent probability
of the immortality of man, are of this latter description, and
could such stimulants be continually applied, instead of tending
to immortalize, they would tend very rapidly to destroy the human

The probable increase of the voluntary power of man over his
animal frame comes next under Mr Godwin's consideration, and he
concludes by saying, that the voluntary power of some men, in
this respect, is found to extend to various articles in which
other men are impotent. But this is reasoning against an almost
universal rule from a few exceptions; and these exceptions seem
to be rather tricks, than powers that may be exerted to any good
purpose. I have never heard of any man who could regulate his
pulse in a fever, and doubt much, if any of the persons here
alluded to have made the smallest perceptible progress in the
regular correction of the disorders of their frames and the
consequent prolongation of their lives.

Mr Godwin says, 'Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to
conclude, that, because a certain species of power is beyond the
train of our present observation, that it is beyond the limits of
the human mind.' I own my ideas of philosophy are in this respect
widely different from Mr Godwin's. The only distinction that I
see, between a philosophical conjecture, and the assertions of
the Prophet Mr Brothers, is, that one is founded upon indications
arising from the train of our present observations, and the other
has no foundation at all. I expect that great discoveries are yet
to take place in all the branches of human science, particularly
in physics; but the moment we leave past experience as the
foundation of our conjectures concerning the future, and, still
more, if our conjectures absolutely contradict past experience,
we are thrown upon a wide field of uncertainty, and any one
supposition is then just as good as another. If a person were to
tell me that men would ultimately have eyes and hands behind them
as well as before them, I should admit the usefulness of the
addition, but should give as a reason for my disbelief of it,
that I saw no indications whatever in the past from which I could
infer the smallest probability of such a change. If this be not
allowed a valid objection, all conjectures are alike, and all
equally philosophical. I own it appears to me that in the train
of our present observations, there are no more genuine
indications that man will become immortal upon earth than that he
will have four eyes and four hands, or that trees will grow
horizontally instead of perpendicularly.

It will be said, perhaps, that many discoveries have already
taken place in the world that were totally unforeseen and
unexpected. This I grant to be true; but if a person had
predicted these discoveries without being guided by any analogies
or indications from past facts, he would deserve the name of seer
or prophet, but not of philosopher. The wonder that some of our
modern discoveries would excite in the savage inhabitants of
Europe in the times of Theseus and Achilles, proves but little.
Persons almost entirely unacquainted with the powers of a machine
cannot be expected to guess at its effects. I am far from saying,
that we are at present by any means fully acquainted with the
powers of the human mind; but we certainly know more of this
instrument than was known four thousand years ago; and therefore,
though not to be called competent judges, we are certainly much
better able than savages to say what is, or is not, within its
grasp. A watch would strike a savage with as much surprise as a
perpetual motion; yet one is to us a most familiar piece of
mechanism, and the other has constantly eluded the efforts of the
most acute intellects. In many instances we are now able to
perceive the causes, which prevent an unlimited improvement in
those inventions, which seemed to promise fairly for it at first.
The original improvers of telescopes would probably think, that
as long as the size of the specula and the length of the tubes
could be increased, the powers and advantages of the instrument
would increase; but experience has since taught us, that the
smallness of the field, the deficiency of light, and the
circumstance of the atmosphere being magnified, prevent the
beneficial results that were to be expected from telescopes of
extraordinary size and power. In many parts of knowledge, man has
been almost constantly making some progress; in other parts, his
efforts have been invariably baffled. The savage would not
probably be able to guess at the causes of this mighty
difference. Our further experience has given us some little
insight into these causes, and has therefore enabled us better to
judge, if not of what we are to expect in future, at least of
what we are not to expect, which, though negative, is a very
useful piece of information.

As the necessity of sleep seems rather to depend upon the
body than the mind, it does not appear how the improvement of the
mind can tend very greatly to supersede this 'conspicuous
infirmity'.30 A man who by great excitements on his mind is able
to pass two or three nights without sleep, proportionably
exhausts the vigour of his body, and this diminution of health
and strength will soon disturb the operations of his
understanding, so that by these great efforts he appears to have
made no real progress whatever in superseding the necessity of
this species of rest.

There is certainly a sufficiently marked difference in the
various characters of which we have some knowledge, relative to
the energies of their minds, their benevolent pursuits, etc., to
enable us to judge whether the operations of intellect have any
decided effect in prolonging the duration of human life. It is
certain that no decided effect of this kind has yet been
observed. Though no attention of any kind has ever produced such
an effect as could be construed into the smallest semblance of an
approach towards immortality, yet of the two, a certain attention
to the body seems to have more effect in this respect than an
attention to the mind. The man who takes his temperate meals and
his bodily exercise, with scrupulous regularity, will generally
be found more healthy than the man who, very deeply engaged in
intellectual pursuits, often forgets for a time these bodily
cravings. The citizen who has retired, and whose ideas, perhaps,
scarcely soar above or extend beyond his little garden, puddling
all the morning about his borders of box, will, perhaps, live as
long as the philosopher whose range of intellect is the most
extensive, and whose views are the clearest of any of his
contemporaries. It has been positively observed by those who have
attended to the bills of mortality that women live longer upon an
average than men, and, though I would not by any means say that
their intellectual faculties are inferior, yet, I think, it must
be allowed that, from their different education, there are not so
many women as men, who are excited to vigorous mental exertion.

As in these and similar instances, or to take a larger range,
as in the great diversity of characters that have existed during
some thousand years, no decided difference has been observed in
the duration of human life from the operation of intellect, the
mortality of man on earth seems to be as completely established,
and exactly upon the same grounds, as any one, the most constant,
of the laws of nature. An immediate act of power in the Creator
of the Universe might, indeed, change one or all of these laws,
either suddenly or gradually, but without some indications of
such a change, and such indications do not exist, it. Is just as
unphilosophical to suppose that the life of man may be prolonged
beyond any assignable limits, as to suppose that the attraction
of the earth will gradually be changed into repulsion and that
stones will ultimately rise instead of fall or that the earth
will fly off at a certain period to some more genial and warmer

The conclusion of this chapter presents us, undoubtedly, with
a very beautiful and desirable picture, but like some of the
landscapes drawn from fancy and not imagined with truth, it fails
of that interest in the heart which nature and probability can
alone give.

I cannot quit this subject without taking notice of these
conjectures of Mr Godwin and Mr Condorcet concerning the
indefinite prolongation of human life, as a very curious instance
of the longing of the soul after immortality. Both these
gentlemen have rejected the light of revelation which absolutely
promises eternal life in another state. They have also rejected
the light of natural religion, which to the ablest intellects in
all ages has indicated the future existence of the soul. Yet so
congenial is the idea of immortality to the mind of man that they
cannot consent entirely to throw it out of their systems. After
all their fastidious scepticisms concerning the only probable
mode of immortality, they introduce a species of immortality of
their own, not only completely contradictory to every law of
philosophical probability, but in itself in the highest degree
narrow, partial, and unjust. They suppose that all the great,
virtuous, and exalted minds that have ever existed or that may
exist for some thousands, perhaps millions of years, will be sunk
in annihilation, and that only a few beings, not greater in
number than can exist at once upon the earth, will be ultimately
crowned with immortality. Had such a tenet been advanced as a
tenet of revelation I am very sure that all the enemies of
religion, and probably Mr Godwin and Mr Condorcet among the rest,
would have exhausted the whole force of their ridicule upon it,
as the most puerile, the most absurd, the poorest, the most
pitiful, the most iniquitously unjust, and, consequently, the
most unworthy of the Deity that the superstitious folly of man
could invent.

What a strange and curious proof do these conjectures exhibit
of the inconsistency of scepticism! For it should be observed,
that there is a very striking and essential difference between
believing an assertion which absolutely contradicts the most
uniform experience, and an assertion which contradicts nothing,
but is merely beyond the power of our present observation and
knowledge. So diversified are the natural objects around us, so
many instances of mighty power daily offer themselves to our
view, that we may fairly presume, that there are many forms and
operations of nature which we have not yet observed, or which,
perhaps, we are not capable of observing with our present
confined inlets of knowledge. The resurrection of a spiritual
body from a natural body does not appear in itself a more
wonderful instance of power than the germination of a blade of
wheat from the grain, or of an oak from an acorn. Could we
conceive an intelligent being, so placed as to be conversant only
with inanimate or full grown objects, and never to have witnessed
the process of vegetation and growth; and were another being to
shew him two little pieces of matter, a grain of wheat, and an
acorn, to desire him to examine them, to analyse them if he
pleased, and endeavour to find out their properties and essences;
and then to tell him, that however trifling these little bits of
matter might appear to him, that they possessed such curious
powers of selection, combination, arrangement, and almost of
creation, that upon being put into the ground, they would choose,
amongst all the dirt and moisture that surrounded them, those
parts which best suited their purpose, that they would collect
and arrange these parts with wonderful taste, judgement, and
execution, and would rise up into beautiful forms, scarcely in
any respect analogous to the little bits of matter which were
first placed in the earth. I feel very little doubt that the
imaginary being which I have supposed would hesitate more, would
require better authority, and stronger proofs, before he believed
these strange assertions, than if he had been told, that a being
of mighty power, who had been the cause of all that he saw around
him, and of that existence of which he himself was conscious,
would, by a great act of power upon the death and corruption of
human creatures, raise up the essence of thought in an
incorporeal, or at least invisible form, to give it a happier
existence in another state.

The only difference, with regard to our own apprehensions,
that is not in favour of the latter assertion is that the first
miracle we have repeatedly seen, and the last miracle we have not
seen. I admit the full weight of this prodigious difference, but
surely no man can hesitate a moment in saying that, putting
Revelation out of the question, the resurrection of a spiritual
body from a natural body, which may be merely one among the many
operations of nature which we cannot see, is an event
indefinitely more probable than the immortality of man on earth,
which is not only an event of which no symptoms or indications
have yet appeared, but is a positive contradiction to one of the
most constant of the laws of nature that has ever come within the
observation of man.

When we extend our view beyond this life, it is evident that
we can have no other guides than authority, or conjecture, and
perhaps, indeed, an obscure and undefined feeling. What I say
here, therefore, does not appear to me in any respect to
contradict what I said before, when I observed that it was
unphilosophical to expect any specifick event that was not
indicated by some kind of analogy in the past. In ranging beyond
the bourne from which no traveller returns, we must necessarily
quit this rule; but with regard to events that may be expected to
happen on earth, we can seldom quit it consistently with true
philosophy. Analogy has, however, as I conceive, great latitude.
For instance, man has discovered many of the laws of nature:
analogy seems to indicate that he will discover many more; but no
analogy seems to indicate that he will discover a sixth sense, or
a new species of power in the human mind, entirely beyond the
train of our present observations.

The powers of selection, combination, and transmutation,
which every seed shews, are truly miraculous. Who can imagine
that these wonderful faculties are contained in these little bits
of matter? To me it appears much more philosophical to suppose
that the mighty God of nature is present in full energy in all
these operations. To this all powerful Being, it would be equally
easy to raise an oak without an acorn as with one. The
preparatory process of putting seeds into the ground is merely
ordained for the use of man, as one among the various other
excitements necessary to awaken matter into mind. It is an idea
that will be found consistent, equally with the natural phenomena
around us, with the various events of human life, and with the
successive revelations of God to man, to suppose that the world
is a mighty process for the creation and formation of mind. Many
vessels will necessarily come out of this great furnace in wrong
shapes. These will be broken and thrown aside as useless; while
those vessels whose forms are full of truth, grace, and
loveliness, will be wafted into happier situations, nearer the
presence of the mighty maker.

I ought perhaps again to make an apology to my readers for
dwelling so long upon a conjecture which many, I know, will think
too absurd and improbable to require the least discussion. But if
it be as improbable and as contrary to the genuine spirit of
philosophy as I own I think it is, why should it not be shewn to
be so in a candid examination? A conjecture, however improbable
on the first view of it, advanced by able and ingenious men,
seems at least to deserve investigation. For my own part I feel
no disinclination whatever to give that degree of credit to the
opinion of the probable immortality of man on earth, which the
appearances that can be brought in support of it deserve. Before
we decide upon the utter improbability of such an event, it is
but fair impartially to examine these appearances; and from such
an examination I think we may conclude, that we have rather less
reason for supposing that the life of man may be indefinitely
prolonged, than that trees may be made to grow indefinitely high,
or potatoes indefinitely large. Though Mr Godwin advances the
idea of the indefinite prolongation of human life merely as a
conjecture, yet as he has produced some appearances, which in his
conception favour the supposition, he must certainly intend that
these appearances should be examined and this is all that I have
meant to do.


Error of Mr Godwin is considering man too much in the light of a
being merely rational--In the compound being, man, the passions
will always act as disturbing forces in the decisions of the
understanding--Reasonings of Mr Godwin on the subject of
coercion--Some truths of a nature not to be communicated from
one man to another.

In the chapter which I have been examining, Mr Godwin professes
to consider the objection to his system of equality from the
principle of population. It has appeared, I think clearly, that
he is greatly erroneous in his statement of the distance of this
difficulty, and that instead of myriads of centuries, it is
really not thirty years, or even thirty days, distant from us.
The supposition of the approach of man to immortality on earth is
certainly not of a kind to soften the difficulty. The only
argument, therefore, in the chapter which has any tendency to
remove the objection is the conjecture concerning the extinction
of the passion between the sexes, but as this is a mere
conjecture, unsupported by the smallest shadow of proof, the
force of the objection may be fairly said to remain unimpaired,
and it is undoubtedly of sufficient weight of itself completely
to overturn Mr Godwin's whole system of equality. I will,
however, make one or two observations on a few of the prominent
parts of Mr Godwin's reasonings which will contribute to place in
a still clearer point of view the little hope that we can
reasonably entertain of those vast improvements in the nature of
man and of society which he holds up to our admiring gaze in his
Political Justice.

Mr Godwin considers man too much in the light of a being
merely intellectual. This error, at least such I conceive it to
be, pervades his whole work and mixes itself with all his
reasonings. The voluntary actions of men may originate in their
opinions, but these opinions will be very differently modified in
creatures compounded of a rational faculty and corporal
propensities from what they would be in beings wholly
intellectual. Mr Godwin, in proving that sound reasoning and
truth are capable of being adequately communicated, examines the
proposition first practically, and then adds, 'Such is the
appearance which this proposition assumes, when examined in a
loose and practical view. In strict consideration it will not
admit of debate. Man is a rational being, etc.' (Bk. I, ch. 5; in
the third edition Vol. I, p. 88). So far from calling this a
strict consideration of the subject, I own I should call it the
loosest, and most erroneous, way possible, of considering it. It
is the calculating the velocity of a falling body in vacuo, and
persisting in it, that it would be the same through whatever
resisting mediums it might fall. This was not Newton's mode of
philosophizing. Very few general propositions are just in
application to a particular subject. The moon is not kept in her
orbit round the earth, nor the earth in her orbit round the sun,
by a force that varies merely in the inverse ratio of the squares
of the distances. To make the general theory just in application
to the revolutions of these bodies, it was necessary to calculate
accurately the disturbing force of the sun upon the moon, and of
the moon upon the earth; and till these disturbing forces were
properly estimated, actual observations on the motions of these
bodies would have proved that the theory was not accurately true.

I am willing to allow that every voluntary act is preceded by
a decision of the mind, but it is strangely opposite to what I
should conceive to be the just theory upon the subject, and a
palpable contradiction to all experience, to say that the
corporal propensities of man do not act very powerfully, as
disturbing forces, in these decisions. The question, therefore,
does not merely depend upon whether a man may be made to
understand a distinct proposition or be convinced by an
unanswerable argument. A truth may be brought home to his
conviction as a rational being, though he may determine to act
contrary to it, as a compound being. The cravings of hunger, the
love of liquor, the desire of possessing a beautiful woman, will
urge men to actions, of the fatal consequences of which, to the
general interests of society, they are perfectly well convinced,
even at the very time they commit them. Remove their bodily
cravings, and they would not hesitate a moment in determining
against such actions. Ask them their opinion of the same conduct
in another person, and they would immediately reprobate it. But
in their own case, and under all the circumstances of their
situation with these bodily cravings, the decision of the
compound being is different from the conviction of the rational

If this be the just view of the subject, and both theory and
experience unite to prove that it is, almost all Mr Godwin's
reasonings on the subject of coercion in his seventh chapter,
will appear to be founded on error. He spends some time in
placing in a ridiculous point of view the attempt to convince a
man's understanding and to clear up a doubtful proposition in his
mind, by blows. Undoubtedly it is both ridiculous and barbarous,
and so is cock-fighting, but one has little more to do with the
real object of human punishments than the other. One frequent
(indeed much too frequent) mode of punishment is death. Mr Godwin
will hardly think this intended for conviction, at least it does
not appear how the individual or the society could reap much
future benefit from an understanding enlightened in this manner.

The principal objects which human punishments have in view
are undoubtedly restraint and example; restraint, or removal, of
an individual member whose vicious habits are likely to be
prejudicial to the society'; and example, which by expressing the
sense of the community with regard to a particular crime, and by
associating more nearly and visibly crime and punishment, holds
out a moral motive to dissuade others from the commission of it.

Restraint, Mr Godwin thinks, may be permitted as a temporary
expedient, though he reprobates solitary imprisonment, which has
certainly been the most successful, and, indeed, almost the only
attempt towards the moral amelioration of offenders. He talks of
the selfish passions that are fostered by solitude and of the
virtues generated in society. But surely these virtues are not
generated in the society of a prison. Were the offender confined
to the society of able and virtuous men he would probably be more
improved than in solitude. But is this practicable? Mr Godwin's
ingenuity is more frequently employed in finding out evils than
in suggesting practical remedies.

Punishment, for example, is totally reprobated. By
endeavouring to make examples too impressive and terrible,
nations have, indeed, been led into the most barbarous cruelties,
but the abuse of any practice is not a good argument against its
use. The indefatigable pains taken in this country to find out a
murder, and the certainty of its punishment, has powerfully
contributed to generate that sentiment which is frequent in the
mouths of the common people, that a murder will sooner or later
come to light; and the habitual horror in which murder is in
consequence held will make a man, in the agony of passion, throw
down his knife for fear he should be tempted to use it in the
gratification of his revenge. In Italy, where murderers, by
flying to a sanctuary, are allowed more frequently to escape, the
crime has never been held in the same detestation and has
consequently been more frequent. No man, who is at all aware of
the operation of moral motives, can doubt for a moment, that if
every murder in Italy had been invariably punished, the use of
the stiletto in transports of passion would have been
comparatively but little known.

That human laws either do, or can, proportion the punishment
accurately to the offence, no person will have the folly to
assert. From the inscrutability of motives the thing is
absolutely impossible, but this imperfection, though it may be
called a species of injustice, is no valid argument against human
laws. It is the lot of man, that he will frequently have to
choose between two evils; and it is a sufficient reason for the
adoption of any institution, that it is the best mode that
suggests itself of preventing greater evils. A continual
endeavour should undoubtedly prevail to make these institutions
as perfect as the nature of them will admit. But nothing is so
easy as to find fault with human institutions; nothing so
difficult as to suggest adequate practical improvements. It is to
be lamented, that more men of talents employ their time in the
former occupation than in the tatter.

The frequency of crime among men, who, as the common saying
is, know better, sufficiently proves, that some truths may be
brought home to the conviction of the mind without always
producing the proper effect upon the conduct. There are other
truths of a nature that perhaps never can be adequately
communicated from one man to another. The superiority of the
pleasures of intellect to those of sense, Mr Godwin considers as
a fundamental truth. Taking all circumstances into consideration,
I should be disposed to agree with him; but how am I to
communicate this truth to a person who has scarcely ever felt
intellectual pleasure? I may as well attempt to explain the
nature and beauty of colours to a blind man. If I am ever so
laborious, patient, and clear, and have the most repeated
opportunities of expostulation, any real progress toward the
accomplishment of my purpose seems absolutely hopeless. There is
no common measure between us. I cannot proceed step by step.. It
is a truth of a nature absolutely incapable of demonstration. All
that I can say is, that the wisest and best men in all ages had
agreed in giving the preference, very greatly, to the pleasures
of intellect; and that my own experience completely confirmed the
truth of their decisions; that I had found sensual pleasures
vain, transient, and continually attended with tedium and
disgust; but that intellectual pleasures appeared to me ever
fresh and young, filled up all my hours satisfactorily, gave a
new zest to life, and diffused a lasting serenity over my mind.
If he believe me, it can only be from respect and veneration for
my authority. It is credulity, and not conviction. I have not
said any thing, nor can any thing be said, of a nature to produce
real conviction. The affair is not an affair of reasoning, but of
experience. He would probably observe in reply, what you say may
be very true with regard to yourself and many other good men, but
for my own part I feel very differently upon the subject. I have
very frequently taken up a book and almost as frequently gone to
sleep over it; but when I pass an evening with a gay party, or a
pretty woman, I feel alive, and in spirits, and truly enjoy my

Under such circumstances, reasoning and arguments are not
instruments from which success can be expected. At some future
time perhaps, real satiety of sensual pleasures, or some
accidental impressions that awakened the energies of his mind,
might effect that, in a month, which the most patient and able
expostulations might be incapable of effecting in forty years.


Mr Godwin's five propositions respecting political truth, on
which his whole work hinges, not established--Reasons we have
for supposing, from the distress occasioned by the principle of
population, that the vices and moral weakness of man can never be
wholly eradicated--Perfectibility, in the sense in which Mr
Godwin uses the term, not applicable to man--Nature of the real
perfectibility of man illustrated.

If the reasonings of the preceding chapter are just, the
corollaries respecting political truth, which Mr Godwin draws
from the proposition, that the voluntary actions of men originate
in their opinions, will not appear to be clearly established.
These corollaries are, "Sound reasoning and truth, when
adequately communicated, must always be victorious over error:
Sound reasoning and truth are capable of being so communicated:
Truth is omnipotent: The vices and moral weakness of man are not
invincible: Man is perfectible, or in other words, susceptible of
perpetual improvement."

The first three propositions may be considered a complete
syllogism. If by adequately communicated, be meant such a
conviction as to produce an adequate effect upon the conduct, the
major may be allowed and the minor denied. The consequent, or the
omnipotence of truth, of course falls to the ground. If by
'adequately communicated' be meant merely the conviction of the
rational faculty, the major must be denied, the minor will be
only true in cases capable of demonstration, and the consequent
equally falls. The fourth proposition Mr Godwin calls the
preceding proposition, with a slight variation in the statement.
If so, it must accompany the preceding proposition in its fall.
But it may be worth while to inquire, with reference to the
principal argument of this essay, into the particular reasons
which we have for supposing that the vices and moral weakness of
man can never be wholly overcome in this world.

Man, according to Mr Godwin, is a creature formed what he is
by the successive impressions which he has received, from the
first moment that the germ from which he sprung was animated.
Could he be placed in a situation, where he was subject to no
evil impressions whatever, though it might be doubted whether in
such a situation virtue could exist, vice would certainly be
banished. The great bent of Mr Godwin's work on Political
Justice, if I understand it rightly, is to shew that the greater
part of the vices and weaknesses of men proceed from the
injustice of their political and social institutions, and that if
these were removed and the understandings of men more
enlightened, there would be little or no temptation in the world
to evil. As it has been clearly proved, however, (at least as I
think) that this is entirely a false conception, and that,
independent of any political or social institutions whatever, the
greater part of mankind, from the fixed and unalterable laws of
nature, must ever be subject to the evil temptations arising from
want, besides other passions, it follows from Mr Godwin's
definition of man that such impressions, and combinations of
impressions, cannot be afloat in the world without generating a
variety of bad men. According to Mr Godwin's own conception of
the formation of character, it is surely as improbable that under
such circumstances all men will be virtuous as that sixes will
come up a hundred times following upon the dice. The great
variety of combinations upon the dice in a repeated succession of
throws appears to me not inaptly to represent the great variety
of character that must necessarily exist in the world, supposing
every individual to be formed what he is by that combination of
impressions which he has received since his first existence. And
this comparison will, in some measure, shew the absurdity of
supposing, that exceptions will ever become general rules; that
extraordinary and unusual combinations will be frequent; or that
the individual instances of great virtue which had appeared in
all ages of the world will ever prevail universally.

I am aware that Mr Godwin might say that the comparison is in
one respect inaccurate, that in the case of the dice, the
preceding causes, or rather the chances respecting the preceding
causes, were always the same, and that, therefore, I could have
no good reason for supposing that a greater number of sixes would
come up in the next hundred times of throwing than in the
preceding same number of throws. But, that man had in some sort a
power of influencing those causes that formed character, and that
every good and virtuous man that was produced, by the influence
which he must necessarily have, rather increased the probability
that another such virtuous character would be generated, whereas
the coming up of sixes upon the dice once, would certainly not
increase the probability of their coming up a second time. I
admit this objection to the accuracy of the comparison, but it is
only partially valid. Repeated experience has assured us, that
the influence of the most virtuous character will rarely prevail
against very strong temptations to evil. It will undoubtedly
affect some, but it will fail with a much greater number. Had Mr
Godwin succeeded in his attempt to prove that these temptations
to evil could by the exertions of man be removed, I would give up
the comparison; or at least allow, that a man might be so far
enlightened with regard to the mode of shaking his elbow, that he
would be able to throw sixes every time. But as long as a great
number of those impressions which form character, like the nice
motions of the arm, remain absolutely independent of the will of
man, though it would be the height of folly and presumption to
attempt to calculate the relative proportions of virtue and vice
at the future periods of the world, it may be safely asserted
that the vices and moral weakness of mankind, taken in the mass,
are invincible.

The fifth proposition is the general deduction from the four
former and will consequently fall, as the foundations which
support it have given way. In the sense in which Mr Godwin
understands the term 'perfectible', the perfectibility of man
cannot be asserted, unless the preceding propositions could have
been clearly established. There is, however, one sense, which the
term will bear, in which it is, perhaps, just. It may be said
with truth that man is always susceptible of improvement, or that
there never has been, or will be, a period of his history, in
which he can be said to have reached his possible acme of
perfection. Yet it does not by any means follow from this, that
our efforts to improve man will always succeed, or even that he
will ever make, in the greatest number of ages, any extraordinary
strides towards perfection. The only inference that can be drawn
is that the precise limit of his improvement cannot possibly be
known. And I cannot help again reminding the reader of a
distinction which, it appears to me, ought particularly to be
attended to in the present question: I mean, the essential
difference there is between an unlimited improvement and an
improvement the limit of which cannot be ascertained. The former
is an improvement not applicable to man under the present laws of
his nature. The latter, undoubtedly, is applicable.

The real perfectibility of man may be illustrated, as I have
mentioned before, by the perfectibility of a plant. The object of
the enterprising florist is, as I conceive, to unite size,
symmetry, and beauty of colour. It would surely be presumptuous
in the most successful improver to affirm, that he possessed a
carnation in which these qualities existed in the greatest
possible state of perfection. However beautiful his flower may
be, other care, other soil, or other suns, might produce one
still more beautiful.

Yet, although he may be aware of the absurdity of supposing
that he has reached perfection, and though he may know by what
means he attained that degree of beauty in the flower which he at
present possesses, yet he cannot be sure that by pursuing similar
means, rather increased in strength, he will obtain a more
beautiful blossom. By endeavouring to improve one quality, he may
impair the beauty of another. The richer mould which he would
employ to increase the size of his plant would probably burst the
calyx, and destroy at once its symmetry. In a similar manner, the
forcing manure used to bring about the French Revolution, and to
give a greater freedom and energy to the human mind, has burst
the calyx of humanity, the restraining bond of all society; and,
however large the separate petals have grown, however strongly,
or even beautifully, a few of them have been marked, the whole is
at present a loose, deformed, disjointed mass, without union,
symmetry, or harmony of colouring.

Were it of consequence to improve pinks and carnations,
though we could have no hope of raising them as large as
cabbages, we might undoubtedly expect, by successive efforts, to
obtain more beautiful specimens than we at present possess. No
person can deny the importance of improving the happiness of the
human species. Every the least advance in this respect is highly
valuable. But an experiment with the human race is not like an
experiment upon inanimate objects. The bursting of a flower may
be a trifle. Another will soon succeed it. But the bursting of
the bonds of society is such a separation of parts as cannot take
place without giving the most acute pain to thousands: and a long
time may elapse, and much misery may be endured, before the wound
grows up again.

As the five propositions which I have been examining may be
considered as the corner stones of Mr Godwin's fanciful
structure, and, indeed, as expressing the aim and bent of his
whole work, however excellent much of his detached reasoning may
be, he must be considered as having failed in the great object of
his undertaking. Besides the difficulties arising from the
compound nature of man, which he has by no means sufficiently
smoothed, the principal argument against the perfectibility of
man and society remains whole and unimpaired from any thing that
he has advanced. And as far as I can trust my own judgement, this
argument appears to be conclusive, not only against the
perfectibility of man, in the enlarged sense in which Mr Godwin
understands the term, but against any very marked and striking
change for the better, in the form and structure of general
society; by which I mean any great and decided amelioration of
the condition of the lower classes of mankind, the most numerous,
and, consequently, in a general view of the subject, the most
important part of the human race. Were I to live a thousand
years, and the laws of nature to remain the same, I should little
fear, or rather little hope, a contradiction from experience in
asserting that no possible sacrifices or exertions of the rich,
in a country which had been long inhabited, could for any time
place the lower classes of the community in a situation equal,
with regard to circumstances, to the situation of the common
people about thirty years ago in the northern States of America.

The lower classes of people in Europe may at some future
period be much better instructed than they are at present; they
may be taught to employ the little spare time they have in many
better ways than at the ale-house; they may live under better and
more equal laws than they have ever hitherto done, perhaps, in
any country; and I even conceive it possible, though not probable
that they may have more leisure; but it is not in the nature of
things that they can be awarded such a quantity of money or
subsistence as will allow them all to marry early, in the full
confidence that they shall be able to provide with ease for a
numerous family.


Models too perfect may sometimes rather impede than promote
improvement--Mr Godwin's essay on 'Avarice and Profusion'--
Impossibility of dividing the necessary labour of a society
amicably among all--Invectives against labour may produce present
evil, with little or no chance of producing future good--An
accession to the mass of agricultural labour must always be an
advantage to the labourer.

Mr Godwin in the preface to his Enquirer, drops a few expressions
which seem to hint at some change in his opinions since he wrote
the Political Justice; and as this is a work now of some years
standing, I should certainly think that I had been arguing
against opinions which the author had himself seen reason to
alter, but that in some of the essays of the Enquirer, Mr
Godwin's peculiar mode of thinking appears in as striking a light
as ever.

It has been frequently observed that though we cannot hope to
reach perfection in any thing, yet that it must always be
advantageous to us to place before our eyes the most perfect
models. This observation has a plausible appearance, but is very
far from being generally true. I even doubt its truth in one of
the most obvious exemplifications that would occur. I doubt
whether a very young painter would receive so much benefit, from
an attempt to copy a highly finished and perfect picture, as from
copying one where the outlines were more strongly marked and the
manner of laying on the colours was more easily discoverable. But
in cases where the perfection of the model is a perfection of a
different and superior nature from that towards which we should
naturally advance, we shall not always fail in making any
progress towards it, but we shall in all probability impede the
progress which we might have expected to make had we not fixed
our eyes upon so perfect a model. A highly intellectual
being, exempt from the infirm calls of hunger or sleep, is
undoubtedly a much more perfect existence than man, but were man
to attempt to copy such a model, he would not only fail in making
any advances towards it; but by unwisely straining to imitate
what was inimitable, he would probably destroy the little
intellect which he was endeavouring to improve.

The form and structure of society which Mr Godwin describes
is as essentially distinct from any forms of society which have
hitherto prevailed in the world as a being that can live without
food or sleep is from a man. By improving society in its present
form, we are making no more advances towards such a state of
things as he pictures than we should make approaches towards a
line, with regard to which we were walking parallel. The
question, therefore, is whether, by looking to such a form of
society as our polar star, we are likely to advance or retard the
improvement of the human species? Mr Godwin appears to me to have
decided this question against himself in his essay on 'Avarice
and Profusion' in the Enquirer.

Dr Adam Smith has very justly observed that nations as well
as individuals grow rich by parsimony and poor by profusion, and
that, therefore, every frugal man was a friend and every
spendthrift an enemy to his country. The reason he gives is that
what is saved from revenue is always added to stock, and is
therefore taken from the maintenance of labour that is generally
unproductive and employed in the maintenance of labour that
realizes itself in valuable commodities. No observation can be
more evidently just. The subject of Mr Godwin's essay is a little
similar in its first appearance, but in essence is as distinct as
possible. He considers the mischief of profusion as an
acknowledged truth, and therefore makes his comparison between
the avaricious man, and the man who spends his income. But the
avaricious man of Mr Godwin is totally a distinct character, at
least with regard to his effect upon the prosperity of the state,
from the frugal man of Dr Adam Smith. The frugal man in order to
make more money saves from his income and adds to his capital,
and this capital he either employs himself in the maintenance of
productive labour, or he lends it to some other person who will
probably employ it in this way. He benefits the state because he
adds to its general capital, and because wealth employed as
capital not only sets in motion more labour than when spent as
income, but the labour is besides of a more valuable kind. But
the avaricious man of Mr Godwin locks up his wealth in a chest
and sets in motion no labour of any kind, either productive or
unproductive. This is so essential a difference that Mr Godwin's
decision in his essay appears at once as evidently false as Dr
Adam Smith's position is evidently true. It could not, indeed,
but occur to Mr Godwin that some present inconvenience might
arise to the poor from thus locking up the funds destined for the
maintenance of labour. The only way, therefore, he had of
weakening this objection was to compare the two characters
chiefly with regard to their tendency to accelerate the approach
of that happy state of cultivated equality, on which he says we
ought always to fix our eyes as our polar star.

I think it has been proved in the former parts of this essay
that such a state of society is absolutely impracticable. What
consequences then are we to expect from looking to such a point
as our guide and polar star in the great sea of political
discovery? Reason would teach us to expect no other than winds
perpetually adverse, constant but fruitless toil, frequent
shipwreck, and certain misery. We shall not only fail in making
the smallest real approach towards such a perfect form of
society; but by wasting our strength of mind and body, in a
direction in which it is impossible to proceed, and by the
frequent distress which we must necessarily occasion by our
repeated failures, we shall evidently impede that degree of
improvement in society, which is really attainable.

It has appeared that a society constituted according to Mr
Godwin's system must, from the inevitable laws of our nature,
degenerate into a class of proprietors and a class of labourers,
and that the substitution of benevolence for self-love as the
moving principle of society, instead of producing the happy
effects that might be expected from so fair a name, would cause
the same pressure of want to be felt by the whole of society,
which is now felt only by a part. It is to the established
administration of property and to the apparently narrow principle
of self-love that we are indebted for all the noblest exertions
of human genius, all the finer and more delicate emotions of the
soul, for everything, indeed, that distinguishes the civilized
from the savage state; and no sufficient change has as yet taken
place in the nature of civilized man to enable us to say that he
either is, or ever will be, in a state when he may safely throw
down the ladder by which he has risen to this eminence.

If in every society that has advanced beyond the savage
state, a class of proprietors and a class of labourers must
necessarily exist, it is evident that, as labour is the only
property of the class of labourers, every thing that tends to
diminish the value of this property must tend to diminish the
possession of this part of society. The only way that a poor man
has of supporting himself in independence is by the exertion of
his bodily strength. This is the only commodity he has to give in
exchange for the necessaries of life. It would hardly appear then
that you benefit him by narrowing the market for this commodity,
by decreasing the demand for labour, and lessening the value of
the only property that he possesses.

It should be observed that the principal argument of this
Essay only goes to prove the necessity of a class of proprietors,
and a class of labourers, but by no means infers that the present
great inequality of property is either necessary or useful to
society. On the contrary, it must certainly be considered as an
evil, and every institution that promotes it is essentially bad
and impolitic. But whether a government could with advantage to
society actively interfere to repress inequality of fortunes may
be a matter of doubt. Perhaps the generous system of perfect
liberty adopted by Dr Adam Smith and the French economists would
be ill exchanged for any system of restraint.

Mr Godwin would perhaps say that the whole system of barter
and exchange is a vile and iniquitous traffic. If you would
essentially relieve the poor man, you should take a part of his
labour upon yourself, or give him your money, without exacting so
severe a return for it. In answer to the first method proposed,
it may be observed, that even if the rich could be persuaded to
assist the poor in this way, the value of the assistance would be
comparatively trifling. The rich, though they think themselves of
great importance, bear but a small proportion in point of numbers
to the poor, and would, therefore, relieve them but of a small
part of their burdens by taking a share. Were all those that are
employed in the labours of luxuries added to the number of those
employed in producing necessaries, and could these necessary
labours be amicably divided among all, each man's share might
indeed be comparatively light; but desirable as such an amicable
division would undoubtedly be, I cannot conceive any practical
principle according to which it could take place. It has been
shewn, that the spirit of benevolence, guided by the strict
impartial justice that Mr Godwin describes, would, if vigorously
acted upon, depress in want and misery the whole human race. Let
us examine what would be the consequence, if the proprietor were
to retain a decent share for himself, but to give the rest away
to the poor, without exacting a task from them in return. Not to
mention the idleness and the vice that such a proceeding, if
general, would probably create in the present state of society,
and the great risk there would be, of diminishing the produce of
land, as well as the labours of luxury, another objection yet

Mr Godwin seems to have but little respect for practical
principles; but I own it appears to me, that he is a much greater
benefactor to mankind, who points out how an inferior good may be
attained, than he who merely expatiates on the deformity of the
present state of society, and the beauty of a different state,
without pointing out a practical method, that might be
immediately applied, of accelerating our advances from the one,
to the other.

It has appeared that from the principle of population more
will always be in want than can be adequately supplied. The
surplus of the rich man might be sufficient for three, but four
will be desirous to obtain it. He cannot make this selection of
three out of the four without conferring a great favour on those
that are the objects of his choice. These persons must consider
themselves as under a great obligation to him and as dependent
upon him for their support. The rich man would feel his power and
the poor man his dependence, and the evil effects of these two
impressions on the human heart are well known. Though I perfectly
agree with Mr Godwin therefore in the evil of hard labour, yet I
still think it a less evil, and less calculated to debase the
human mind, than dependence, and every history of man that we
have ever read places in a strong point of view the danger to
which that mind is exposed which is entrusted with constant

In the present state of things, and particularly when labour
is in request, the man who does a day's work for me confers full
as great an obligation upon me as I do upon him. I possess what
he wants, he possesses what I want. We make an amicable exchange.
The poor man walks erect in conscious independence; and the mind
of his employer is not vitiated by a sense of power.

Three or four hundred years ago there was undoubtedly much
less labour in England, in proportion to the population, than at
present, but there was much more dependence, and we probably
should not now enjoy our present degree of civil liberty if the
poor, by the introduction of manufactures, had not been enabled
to give something in exchange for the provisions of the great
Lords, instead of being dependent upon their bounty. Even the
greatest enemies of trade and manufactures, and I do not reckon
myself a very determined friend to them, must allow that when
they were introduced into England, liberty came in their train.

Nothing that has been said tends in the most remote degree to
undervalue the principle of benevolence. It is one of the noblest
and most godlike qualities of the human heart, generated,
perhaps, slowly and gradually from self-love, and afterwards
intended to act as a general law, whose kind office it should be,
to soften the partial deformities, to correct the asperities, and
to smooth the wrinkles of its parent: and this seems to be the
analog of all nature. Perhaps there is no one general law of
nature that will not appear, to us at least, to produce partial
evil; and we frequently observe at the same time, some bountiful
provision which, acting as another general law, corrects the
inequalities of the first.

The proper office of benevolence is to soften the partial
evils arising from self-love, but it can never be substituted in
its place. If no man were to allow himself to act till he had
completely determined that the action he was about to perform was
more conducive than any other to the general good, the most
enlightened minds would hesitate in perplexity and amazement; and
the unenlightened would be continually committing the grossest

As Mr Godwin, therefore, has not laid down any practical
principle according to which the necessary labours of agriculture
might be amicably shared among the whole class of labourers, by
general invectives against employing the poor he appears to
pursue an unattainable good through much present evil. For if
every man who employs the poor ought to be considered as their
enemy, and as adding to the weight of their oppressions, and if
the miser is for this reason to be preferred to the man who
spends his income, it follows that any number of men who now
spend their incomes might, to the advantage of society, be
converted into misers. Suppose then that a hundred thousand
persons who now employ ten men each were to lock up their wealth
from general use, it is evident, that a million of working men of
different kinds would be completely thrown out of all employment.
The extensive misery that such an event would produce in the
present state of society Mr Godwin himself could hardly refuse to
acknowledge, and I question whether he might not find some
difficulty in proving that a conduct of this kind tended more
than the conduct of those who spend their incomes to 'place human
beings in the condition in which they ought to be placed.' But Mr
Godwin says that the miser really locks up nothing, that the
point has not been rightly understood, and that the true
development and definition of the nature of wealth have not been
applied to illustrate it. Having defined therefore wealth, very
justly, to be the commodities raised and fostered by human
labour, he observes that the miser locks up neither corn, nor
oxen, nor clothes, nor houses. Undoubtedly he does not really
lock up these articles, but he locks up the power of producing
them, which is virtually the same. These things are certainly
used and consumed by his contemporaries, as truly, and to as
great an extent, as if he were a beggar; but not to as great an
extent as if he had employed his wealth in turning up more land,
in breeding more oxen, in employing more tailors, and in building
more houses. But supposing, for a moment, that the conduct of the
miser did not tend to check any really useful produce, how are
all those who are thrown out of employment to obtain patents
which they may shew in order to be awarded a proper share of the
food and raiment produced by the society? This is the
unconquerable difficulty.

I am perfectly willing to concede to Mr Godwin that there is
much more labour in the world than is really necessary, and that,
if the lower classes of society could agree among themselves
never to work more than six or seven hours in the day, the
commodities essential to human happiness might still be produced
in as great abundance as at present. But it is almost impossible
to conceive that such an agreement could be adhered to. From the
principle of population, some would necessarily be more in want
than others. Those that had large families would naturally be
desirous of exchanging two hours more of their labour for an
ampler quantity of subsistence. How are they to be prevented from
making this exchange? it would be a violation of the first and
most sacred property that a man possesses to attempt, by positive
institutions, to interfere with his command over his own labour.

Till Mr Godwin, therefore, can point out some practical plan
according to which the necessary labour in a society might be
equitably divided, his invectives against labour, if they were
attended to, would certainly produce much present evil without
approximating us to that state of cultivated equality to which he
looks forward as his polar star, and which, he seems to think,
should at present be our guide in determining the nature and
tendency of human actions. A mariner guided by such a polar star
is in danger of shipwreck.

Perhaps there is no possible way in which wealth could in
general be employed so beneficially to a state, and particularly
to the lower orders of it, as by improving and rendering
productive that land which to a farmer would not answer the
expense of cultivation. Had Mr Godwin exerted his energetic
eloquence in painting the superior worth and usefulness of the
character who employed the poor in this way, to him who employed
them in narrow luxuries, every enlightened man must have
applauded his efforts. The increasing demand for agricultural
labour must always tend to better the condition of the poor; and
if the accession of work be of this kind, so far is it from being
true that the poor would be obliged to work ten hours for the
same price that they before worked eight, that the very reverse
would be the fact; and a labourer might then support his wife and
family as well by the labour of six hours as he could before by
the labour of eight.

The labour created by luxuries, though useful in distributing
the produce of the country, without vitiating the proprietor by
power, or debasing the labourer by dependence, has not, indeed,
the same beneficial effects on the state of the poor. A great
accession of work from manufacturers, though it may raise the
price of labour even more than an increasing demand for
agricultural labour, yet, as in this case the quantity of food in
the country may not be proportionably increasing, the advantage
to the poor will be but temporary, as the price of provisions
must necessarily rise in proportion to the price of labour.
Relative to this subject, I cannot avoid venturing a few remarks
on a part of Dr Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, speaking at the
same time with that diffidence which I ought certainly to feel in
differing from a person so justly celebrated in the political


Probable error of Dr Adam Smith in representing every increase of
the revenue or stock of a society as an increase in the funds for
the maintenance of labour--Instances where an increase of wealth
can have no tendency to better the condition of the labouring
poor--England has increased in riches without a proportional
increase in the funds for the maintenance of labour--The state
of the poor in China would not be improved by an increase of
wealth from manufactures.

The professed object of Dr Adam Smith's inquiry is the nature and
causes of the wealth of nations. There is another inquiry,
however, perhaps still more interesting, which he occasionally
mixes with it; I mean an inquiry into the causes which affect the
happiness of nations or the happiness and comfort of the lower
orders of society, which is the most numerous class in every
nation. I am sufficiency aware of the near connection of these
two subjects, and that the causes which tend to increase the
wealth of a state tend also, generally speaking, to increase the
happiness of the lower classes of the people. But perhaps Dr Adam
Smith has considered these two inquiries as still more nearly
connected than they really are; at least, he has not stopped to
take notice of those instances where the wealth of a society may
increase (according to his definition of 'wealth') without having
any tendency to increase the comforts of the labouring part of
it. I do not mean to enter into a philosophical discussion of
what constitutes the proper happiness of man, but shall merely
consider two universally acknowledged ingredients, health, and
the command of the necessaries and conveniences of life.

Little or no doubt can exist that the comforts of the
labouring poor depend upon the increase of the funds destined for
the maintenance of labour, and will be very exactly in proportion
to the rapidity of this increase. The demand for labour which
such increase would occasion, by creating a competition in the
market, must necessarily raise the value of labour, and, till the
additional number of hands required were reared, the increased
funds would be distributed to the same number of persons as
before the increase, and therefore every labourer would live
comparatively at his ease. But perhaps Dr Adam Smith errs in
representing every increase of the revenue or stock of a society
as an increase of these funds. Such surplus stock or revenue
will, indeed, always be considered by the individual possessing
it as an additional fund from which he may maintain more labour:
but it will not be a real and effectual fund for the maintenance
of an additional number of labourers, unless the whole, or at
least a great part of this increase of the stock or revenue of
the society, be convertible into a proportional quantity of
provisions; and it will not be so convertible where the increase
has arisen merely from the produce of labour, and not from the
produce of land. A distinction will in this case occur, between
the number of hands which the stock of the society could employ,
and the number which its territory can maintain.

To explain myself by an instance. Dr Adam Smith defines the
wealth of a nation to consist. In the annual produce of its land
and labour. This definition evidently includes manufactured
produce, as well as the produce of the land. Now supposing a
nation for a course of years was to add what it saved from its
yearly revenue to its manufacturing capital solely, and not to
its capital employed upon land, it is evident that it might grow
richer according to the above definition, without a power of
supporting a greater number of labourers, and, therefore, without
an increase in the real funds for the maintenance of labour.
There would, notwithstanding, be a demand for labour from the
power which each manufacturer would possess, or at least think he
possessed, of extending his old stock in trade or of setting up
fresh works. This demand would of course raise the price of
labour, but if the yearly stock of provisions in the country was
not increasing, this rise would soon turn out to be merely
nominal, as the price of provisions must necessarily rise with
it. The demand for manufacturing labourers might, indeed, entice
many from agriculture and thus tend to diminish the annual
produce of the land, but we will suppose any effect of this kind
to be compensated by improvements in the instruments of
agriculture, and the quantity of provisions therefore to remain
the same. Improvements in manufacturing machinery would of course
take place, and this circumstance, added to the greater number of
hands employed in manufactures, would cause the annual produce of
the labour of the country to be upon the whole greatly increased.
The wealth therefore of the country would be increasing annually,
according to the definition, and might not, perhaps, be
increasing very slowly.

The question is whether wealth, increasing in this way, has
any tendency to better the condition of the labouring poor. It is
a self-evident proposition that any general rise in the price of
labour, the stock of provisions remaining the same, can only be a
nominal rise, as it must very shortly be followed by a
proportional rise in the price of provisions. The increase in the
price of labour, therefore, which we have supposed, would have
little or no effect in giving the labouring poor a greater
command over the necessaries and conveniences of life. In this
respect they would be nearly in the same state as before. In one
other respect they would be in a worse state. A greater
proportion of them would be employed in manufactures, and fewer,
consequently, in agriculture. And this exchange of professions
will be allowed, I think, by all, to be very unfavourable in
respect of health, one essential ingredient of happiness, besides
the greater uncertainty of manufacturing labour, arising from the
capricious taste of man, the accidents of war, and other causes.

It may be said, perhaps, that such an instance as I have
supposed could not occur, because the rise in the price of
provisions would immediately turn some additional capital into
the channel of agriculture. But this is an event which may take
place very slowly, as it should be remarked that a rise in the
price of labour had preceded the rise of provisions, and would,
therefore, impede the good effects upon agriculture, which the
increased value of the produce of the land might otherwise have

It might also be said, that the additional capital of the
nation would enable it to import provisions sufficient for the
maintenance of those whom its stock could employ. A small country
with a large navy, and great inland accommodations for carriage,
such as Holland, may, indeed, import and distribute an effectual
quantity of provisions; but the price of provisions must be very
high to make such an importation and distribution answer in large
countries less advantageously circumstanced in this respect.

An instance, accurately such as I have supposed, may not,
perhaps, ever have occurred, but I have little doubt that
instances nearly approximating to it may be found without any
very laborious search. Indeed I am strongly inclined to think
that England herself, since the Revolution, affords a very
striking elucidation of the argument in question.

The commerce of this country, internal as well as external,
has certainly been rapidly advancing during the last century. The
exchangeable value in the market of Europe of the annual produce
of its land and labour has, without doubt, increased very
considerably. But, upon examination, it will be found that the
increase has been chiefly in the produce of labour and not in the
produce of land, and therefore, though the wealth of the nation
has been advancing with a quick pace, the effectual funds for the
maintenance of labour have been increasing very slowly, and the
result is such as might be expected. The increasing wealth of the
nation has had little or no tendency to better the condition of
the labouring poor. They have not, I believe, a greater command
of the necessaries and conveniences of life, and a much greater
proportion of them than at the period of the Revolution is
employed in manufactures and crowded together in close and
unwholesome rooms.

Could we believe the statement of Dr Price that the
population of England has decreased since the Revolution, it
would even appear that the effectual funds for the maintenance of
labour had been declining during the progress of wealth in other
respects. For I conceive that it may be laid down as a general
rule that if the effectual funds for the maintenance of labour
are increasing, that is, if the territory can maintain as well as
the stock employ a greater number of labourers, this additional
number will quickly spring up, even in spite of such wars as Dr
Price enumerates. And, consequently, if the population of any
country has been stationary, or declining, we may safely infer,
that, however it may have advanced in manufacturing wealth, its
effectual funds for the maintenance of labour cannot have

It is difficult, however, to conceive that the population of
England has been declining since the Revolution, though every
testimony concurs to prove that its increase, if it has
increased, has been very slow. In the controversy which the
question has occasioned, Dr Price undoubtedly appears to be much
more completely master of his subject, and to possess more
accurate information, than his opponents. Judging simply from
this controversy, I think one should say that Dr Price's point is
nearer being proved than Mr Howlett's. Truth, probably, lies
between the two statements, but this supposition makes the
increase of population since the Revolution to have been very
slow in comparison with the increase of wealth.

That the produce of the land has been decreasing, or even
that it has been absolutely stationary during the last century,
few will be disposed to believe. The enclosure of commons and
waste lands certainly tends to increase the food of the country,
but it has been asserted with confidence that the enclosure of
common fields has frequently had a contrary effect, and that
large tracts of land which formerly produced great quantities of
corn, by being converted into pasture both employ fewer hands and
feed fewer mouths than before their enclosure. It is, indeed, an
acknowledged truth, that pasture land produces a smaller quantity
of human subsistence than corn land of the same natural
fertility, and could it be clearly ascertained that from the
increased demand for butchers' meat of the best quality, and its
increased price in consequence, a greater quantity of good land
has annually been employed in grazing, the diminution of human
subsistence, which this circumstance would occasion, might have
counterbalanced the advantages derived from the enclosure of
waste lands, and the general improvements in husbandry.

It scarcely need be remarked that the high price of butchers'
meat at present, and its low price formerly, were not caused by
the scarcity in the one case or the plenty in the other, but by
the different expense sustained at the different periods, in
preparing cattle for the market. It is, however, possible, that
there might have been more cattle a hundred years ago in the
country than at present; but no doubt can be entertained, that
there is much more meat of a superior quality brought to market
at present than ever there was. When the price of butchers' meat
was very low, cattle were reared chiefly upon waste lands; and
except for some of the principal markets, were probably killed
with but little other fatting. The veal that is sold so cheap in
some distant counties at present bears little other resemblance
than the name, to that which is bought in London. Formerly, the
price of butchers, meat would not pay for rearing, and scarcely
for feeding, cattle on land that would answer in tillage; but the
present price will not only pay for fatting cattle on the very
best land, but will even allow of the rearing many, on land that
would bear good crops of corn. The same number of cattle, or even
the same weight of cattle at the different periods when killed,
will have consumed (if I may be allowed the expression) very
different quantities of human substance. A fatted beast may in
some respects be considered, in the language of the French
economists,36 as an unproductive labourer: he has added nothing
to the value of the raw produce that he has consumed. The present
system of grating, undoubtedly tends more than the former system
to diminish the quantity of human subsistence in the country, in
proportion to the general fertility of the land.

I would not by any means be understood to say that the former
system either could or ought to have continued. The increasing
price of butchers' meat is a natural and inevitable consequence
of the general progress of cultivation; but I cannot help
thinking, that the present great demand for butchers' meat of the
best quality, and the quantity of good land that is in
consequence annually employed to produce it, together with the
great number of horses at present kept for pleasure, are the
chief causes that have prevented the quantity of human food in
the country from keeping pace with the generally increased
fertility of the soil; and a change of custom in these respects
would, I have little doubt, have a very sensible effect on the
quantity of subsistence in the country, and consequently on its

The employment of much of the most fertile land in grating,
the improvements in agricultural instruments, the increase of
large farms, and particularly the diminution of the number of
cottages throughout the kingdom, all concur to prove, that there
are not probably so many persons employed in agricultural labour
now as at the period of the Revolution. Whatever increase of
population, therefore, has taken place, must be employed almost
wholly in manufactures, and it is well known that the failure of
some of these manufactures, merely from the caprice of fashion,
such as the adoption of muslins instead of silks, or of
shoe-strings and covered buttons, instead of buckles and metal
buttons, combined with the restraints in the market of labour
arising from corporation and parish laws, have frequently driven
thousands on charity for support. The great increase of the poor
rates is, indeed, of itself a strong evidence that the poor have
not a greater command of the necessaries and conveniences of
life, and if to the consideration, that their condition in this
respect is rather worse than better, be added the circumstance,
that a much greater proportion of them is employed in large
manufactories, unfavourable both to health and virtue, it must be
acknowledged, that the increase of wealth of late years has had
no tendency to increase the happiness of the labouring poor.

That every increase of the stock or revenue of a nation
cannot be considered as an increase of the real funds for the
maintenance of labour and, therefore, cannot have the same good
effect upon the condition of the poor, will appear in a strong
light if the argument be applied to China.

Dr Adam Smith observes that China has probably long been as
rich as the nature of her laws and institutions will admit, but
that with other laws and institutions, and if foreign commerce
were had in honour, she might still be much richer. The question
is, would such an increase of wealth be an increase of the real
funds for the maintenance of labour, and consequently tend to
place the lower classes of people in China in a state of greater

It is evident, that if trade and foreign commerce were held
in great honour in China, from the plenty of labourers, and the
cheapness of labour, she might work up manufactures for foreign
sale to an immense amount. It is equally evident that from the
great bulk of provisions and the amazing extent of her inland
territory she could not in return import such a quantity as would
be any sensible addition to the annual stock of subsistence in
the country. Her immense amount of manufactures, therefore, she
would exchange, chiefly, for luxuries collected from all parts of
the world. At present, it appears, that no labour whatever is
spared in the production of food. The country is rather
over-people in proportion to what its stock can employ, and
labour is, therefore, so abundant, that no pains are taken to
abridge it. The consequence of this is, probably, the greatest
production of food that the soil can possibly afford, for it will
be generally observed, that processes for abridging labour,
though they may enable a farmer to bring a certain quantity of
grain cheaper to market, tend rather to diminish than increase
the whole produce; and in agriculture, therefore, may, in some
respects, be considered rather as private than public advantages.

An immense capital could not be employed in China in
preparing manufactures for foreign trade without taking off so
many labourers from agriculture as to alter this state of things,
and in some degree to diminish the produce of the country. The
demand for manufacturing labourers would naturally raise the
price of labour, but as the quantity of subsistence would not be
increased, the price of provisions would keep pace with it, or
even more than keep pace with it if the quantity of provisions
were really decreasing. The country would be evidently advancing
in wealth, the exchangeable value of the annual produce of its
land and labour would be annually augmented, yet the real funds
for the maintenance of labour would be stationary, or even
declining, and, consequently, the increasing wealth of the nation
would rather tend to depress than to raise the condition of the
poor. With regard to the command over the necessaries and
comforts of life, they would be in the same or rather worse state
than before; and a great part of them would have exchanged the
healthy labours of agriculture for the unhealthy occupations of
manufacturing industry.

The argument, perhaps, appears clearer when applied to China,
because it is generally allowed that the wealth of China has been
long stationary. With regard to any other country it might be
always a matter of dispute at which of the two periods, compared,
wealth was increasing the fastest, as it is upon the rapidity of
the increase of wealth at any particular period that Dr Adam
Smith says the condition of the poor depends. It is evident,
however, that two nations might increase exactly with the same
rapidity in the exchangeable value of the annual produce of their
land and labour, yet if one had applied itself chiefly to
agriculture, and the other chiefly to commerce, the funds for the
maintenance of labour, and consequently the effect of the
increase of wealth in each nation, would be extremely different.
In that which had applied itself chiefly to agriculture, the poor
would live in great plenty, and population would rapidly
increase. In that which had applied itself chiefly to commerce,
the poor would be comparatively but little benefited and
consequently population would increase slowly.


Question of the proper definition of the wealth of a state--
Reason given by the French economists for considering all
manufacturers as unproductive labourers, not the true reason--
The labour of artificers and manufacturers sufficiently
productive to individuals, though not to the state--A remarkable
passage in Dr Price's two volumes of Observations--Error of Dr
Price in attributing the happiness and rapid population of
America, chiefly, to its peculiar state of civilization--No
advantage can be expected from shutting our eyes to the
difficulties in the way to the improvement of society.

A question seems naturally to arise here whether the exchangeable
value of the annual produce of the land and labour be the proper
definition of the wealth of a country, or whether the gross
produce of the land, according to the French economists, may not
be a more accurate definition. Certain it is that every increase
of wealth, according to the definition of the economists, will be
an increase of the funds for the maintenance of labour, and
consequently will always tend to ameliorate the condition of the
labouring poor, though an increase of wealth, according to Dr
Adam Smith's definition, will by no means invariably have the
same tendency. And yet it may not follow from this consideration
that Dr Adam Smith's definition is not just. It seems in many
respects improper to exclude the clothing and lodging of a whole
people from any part of their revenue. Much of it may, indeed, be
of very trivial and unimportant value in comparison with the food
of the country, yet still it may be fairly considered as a part
of its revenue; and, therefore, the only point in which I should
differ from Dr Adam Smith is where he seems to consider every
increase of the revenue or stock of a society as an increase of
the funds for the maintenance of labour, and consequently as
tending always to ameliorate the condition of the poor.

The fine silks and cottons, the laces, and other ornamental
luxuries of a rich country, may contribute very considerably to
augment the exchangeable value of its annual produce; yet they
contribute but in a very small degree to augment the mass of
happiness in the society, and it appears to me that it is with
some view to the real utility of the produce that we ought to
estimate the productiveness or unproductiveness of different
sorts of labour. The French economists consider all labour
employed in manufactures as unproductive. Comparing it with the
labour employed upon land, I should be perfectly disposed to
agree with them, but not exactly for the reasons which they give.
They say that labour employed upon land is productive because the
produce, over and above completely paying the labourer and the
farmer, affords a clear rent to the landlord, and that the labour
employed upon a piece of lace is unproductive because it merely
replaces the provisions that the workman had consumed, and the
stock of his employer, without affording any clear rent whatever.
But supposing the value of the wrought lace to be such as that,
besides paying in the most complete manner the workman and his
employer, it could afford a clear rent to a third person, it
appears to me that, in comparison with the labour employed upon
land, it would be still as unproductive as ever. Though,
according to the reasoning used by the French economists, the man
employed in the manufacture of lace would, in this case, seem to
be a productive labourer. Yet according to their definition of
the wealth of a state, he ought not to be considered in that
light. He will have added nothing to the gross produce of the
land: he has consumed a portion of this gross produce, and has
left a bit of lace in return; and though he may sell this bit of
lace for three times the quantity of provisions that he consumed
whilst he was making it, and thus be a very productive labourer
with regard to himself, yet he cannot be considered as having
added by his labour to any essential part of the riches of the
state. The clear rent, therefore, that a certain produce can
afford, after paying the expenses of procuring it, does not
appear to be the sole criterion, by which to judge of the
productiveness or unproductiveness to a state of any particular
species of labour.

Suppose that two hundred thousand men, who are now employed
in producing manufactures that only tend to gratify the vanity of
a few rich people, were to be employed upon some barren and
uncultivated lands, and to produce only half the quantity of food
that they themselves consumed; they would be still more
productive labourers with regard to the state than they were
before, though their labour, so far from affording a rent to a
third person, would but half replace the provisions used in
obtaining the produce. In their former employment they consumed a
certain portion of the food of the country and left in return
some silks and laces. In their latter employment they consumed
the same quantity of food and left in return provision for a
hundred thousand men. There can be little doubt which of the two
legacies would be the most really beneficial to the country, and
it will, I think, be allowed that the wealth which supported the
two hundred thousand men while they were producing silks and
laces would have been more usefully employed in supporting them
while they were producing the additional quantity of food.

A capital employed upon land may be unproductive to the
individual that employs it and yet be highly productive to the
society. A capital employed in trade, on the contrary, may be
highly productive to the individual, and yet be almost totally
unproductive to the society: and this is the reason why I should
call manufacturing labour unproductive, in comparison of that
which is employed in agriculture, and not for the reason given by
the French economists. It is, indeed, almost impossible to see
the great fortunes that are made in trade, and the liberality
with which so many merchants live, and yet agree in the statement
of the economists, that manufacturers can only grow rich by
depriving themselves of the funds destined for their support. In
many branches of trade the profits are so great as would allow of
a clear rent to a third person; but as there is no third person
in the case, and as all the profits centre in the master
manufacturer, or merchant, he seems to have a fair chance of
growing rich, without much privation; and we consequently see
large fortunes acquired in trade by persons who have not been
remarked for their parsimony.

Daily experience proves that the labour employed in trade and
manufactures is sufficiently productive to individuals, but it
certainly is not productive in the same degree to the state.
Every accession to the food of a country tends to the immediate
benefit of the whole society; but the fortunes made in trade tend
but in a remote and uncertain manner to the same end, and in some
respects have even a contrary tendency. The home trade of
consumption is by far the most important trade of every nation.
China is the richest country in the world, without any other.
Putting then, for a moment, foreign trade out of the question,
the man who, by an ingenious manufacture, obtains a double
portion out of the old stock of provisions, will certainly not to
be so useful to the state as the man who, by his labour, adds a
single share to the former stock. The consumable commodities of
silks, laces, trinkets, and expensive furniture, are undoubtedly
a part of the revenue of the society; but they are the revenue
only of the rich, and not of the society in general. An increase
in this part of the revenue of a state, cannot, therefore, be
considered of the same importance as an increase of food, which
forms the principal revenue of the great mass of the people.

Foreign commerce adds to the wealth of a state, according to
Dr Adam Smith's definition, though not according to the
definition of the economists. Its principal use, and the reason,
probably, that it has in general been held in such high
estimation is that it adds greatly to the external power of a
nation or to its power of commanding the labour of other
countries; but it will be found, upon a near examination, to
contribute but little to the increase of the internal funds for
the maintenance of labour, and consequently but little to the
happiness of the greatest part of society. In the natural
progress of a state towards riches, manufactures, and foreign
commerce would follow, in their order, the high cultivation of
the soil. In Europe, this natural order of things has been
inverted, and the soil has been cultivated from the redundancy of
manufacturing capital, instead of manufactures rising from the
redundancy of capital employed upon land. The superior
encouragement that has been given to the industry of the towns,
and the consequent higher price that is paid for the labour of
artificers than for the labour of those employed in husbandry,
are probably the reasons why so much soil in Europe remains
uncultivated. Had a different policy been pursued throughout
Europe, it might undoubtedly have been much more populous than at
present, and yet not be more incumbered by its population.

I cannot quit this curious subject of the difficulty arising
from population, a subject that appears to me to deserve a minute
investigation and able discussion much beyond my power to give
it, without taking notice of an extraordinary passage in Dr
Price's two volumes of Observations. Having given some tables on
the probabilities of life, in towns and in the country, he says
(Vol. II, p. 243):

From this comparison, it appears with how much truth great cities
have been called the graves of mankind. It must also convince all
who consider it, that according to the observation, at the end of
the fourth essay, in the former volume, it is by no means
strictly proper to consider our diseases as the original
intention of nature. They are, without doubt, in general our own
creation. Were there a country where the inhabitants led lives
entirely natural and virtuous, few of them would die without
measuring out the whole period of present existence allotted to
them; pain and distemper would be unknown among them, and death
would come upon them like a sleep, in consequence of no other
cause than gradual and unavoidable decay.

I own that I felt myself obliged to draw a very opposite
conclusion from the facts advanced in Dr Price's two volumes. I
had for some time been aware that population and food increased
in different ratios, and a vague opinion had been floating in my
mind that they could only be kept equal by some species of misery
or vice, but the perusal of Dr Price's two volumes of
Observations, after that opinion had been conceived, raised it at
once to conviction. With so many facts in his view to prove the
extraordinary rapidity with which population increases when
unchecked, and with such a body of evidence before him to
elucidate even the manner by which the general laws of nature
repress a redundant population, it is perfectly inconceivable to
me how he could write the passage that I have quoted. He was a
strenuous advocate for early marriages, as the best preservative
against vicious manners. He had no fanciful conceptions about the
extinction of the passion between the sexes, like Mr Godwin, nor
did he ever think of eluding the difficulty in the ways hinted at
by Mr Condorcet. He frequently talks of giving the prolifick
powers of nature room to exert themselves. Yet with these ideas,
that his understanding could escape from the obvious and
necessary inference that an unchecked population would increase,
beyond comparison, faster than the earth, by the best directed
exertions of man, could produce food for its support, appears to
me as astonishing as if he had resisted the conclusion of one of
the plainest propositions of Euclid.

Dr Price, speaking of the different stages of the civilized
state, says, 'The first, or simple stages of civilization, are
those which favour most the increase and the happiness of
mankind.' He then instances the American colonies, as being at
that time in the first and happiest of the states that he had
described, and as affording a very striking proof of the effects
of the different stages of civilization on population. But he
does not seem to be aware that the happiness of the Americans
depended much less upon their peculiar degree of civilization
than upon the peculiarity of their situation, as new colonies,
upon their having a great plenty of fertile uncultivated land. In
parts of Norway, Denmark, or Sweden, or in this country, two or
three hundred years ago, he might have found perhaps nearly the
same degree of civilization, but by no means the same happiness
or the same increase of population. He quotes himself a statute
of Henry the Eighth, complaining of the decay of tillage, and the
enhanced price of provisions, 'whereby a marvellous number of
people were rendered incapable of maintaining themselves and
families.' The superior degree of civil liberty which prevailed
in America contributed, without doubt, its share to promote the
industry, happiness, and population of these states, but even
civil liberty, all powerful as it is, will not create fresh land.
The Americans may be said, perhaps, to enjoy a greater degree of
civil liberty, now they are an independent people, than while
they were in subjection in England, but we may be perfectly sure
that population will not long continue to increase with the same
rapidity as it did then.

A person who contemplated the happy state of the lower
classes of people in America twenty years ago would naturally
wish to retain them for ever in that state, and might think,
perhaps, that by preventing the introduction of manufactures and
luxury he might effect his purpose, but he might as reasonably
expect to prevent a wife or mistress from growing old by never
exposing her to the sun or air. The situation of new colonies,
well governed, is a bloom of youth that no efforts can arrest.
There are, indeed, many modes of treatment in the political, as
well as animal, body, that contribute to accelerate or retard the
approaches of age, but there can be no chance of success, in any
mode that could be devised, for keeping either of them in
perpetual youth. By encouraging the industry of the towns more
than the industry of the country, Europe may be said, perhaps, to
have brought on a premature old age. A different policy in this
respect would infuse fresh life and vigour into every state.
While from the law of primogeniture, and other European customs,
land bears a monopoly price, a capital can never be employed in
it with much advantage to the individual; and, therefore, it is
not probable that the soil should be properly cultivated. And,
though in every civilized state a class of proprietors and a
class of labourers must exist, yet one permanent advantage would
always result from a nearer equalization of property. The greater
the number of proprietors, the smaller must be the number of
labourers: a greater part of society would be in the happy state
of possessing property: and a smaller part in the unhappy state
of possessing no other property than their labour. But the best
directed exertions, though they may alleviate, can never remove
the pressure of want, and it will be difficult for any person who
contemplates the genuine situation of man on earth, and the
general laws of nature, to suppose it possible that any, the most
enlightened, efforts could place mankind in a state where 'few
would die without measuring out the whole period of present
existence allotted to them; where pain and distemper would be
unknown among them; and death would come upon them like a sleep,
in consequence of no other cause than gradual and unavoidable

It is, undoubtedly, a most disheartening reflection that the
great obstacle in the way to any extraordinary improvement in
society is of a nature that we can never hope to overcome. The
perpetual tendency in the race of man to increase beyond the
means of subsistence is one of the general laws of animated
nature which we can have no reason to expect will change. Yet,
discouraging as the contemplation of this difficulty must be to
those whose exertions are laudably directed to the improvement of
the human species, it is evident that no possible good can arise
from any endeavours to slur it over or keep it in the background.
On the contrary, the most baleful mischiefs may be expected from
the unmanly conduct of not daring to face truth because it is
unpleasing. Independently of what relates to this great obstacle,
sufficient yet remains to be done for mankind to animate us to
the most unremitted exertion. But if we proceed without a
thorough knowledge and accurate comprehension of the nature,
extent, and magnitude of the difficulties we have to encounter,
or if we unwisely direct our efforts towards an object in which
we cannot hope for success, we shall not only exhaust our
strength in fruitless exertions and remain at as great a distance
as ever from the summit of our wishes, but we shall be
perpetually crushed by the recoil of this rock of Sisyphus.


The constant pressure of distress on man, from the principle of
population, seems to direct our hopes to the future--State of
trial inconsistent with our ideas of the foreknowledge of God--
The world, probably, a mighty process for awakening matter into
mind--Theory of the formation of mind--Excitements from the
wants of the body--Excitements from the operation of general
laws--Excitements from the difficulties of life arising from the
principle of population.

The view of human life which results from the contemplation of
the constant pressure of distress on man from the difficulty of
subsistence, by shewing the little expectation that he can
reasonably entertain of perfectibility on earth, seems strongly
to point his hopes to the future. And the temptations to which he
must necessarily be exposed, from the operation of those laws of
nature which we have been examining, would seem to represent the
world in the light in which it has been frequently considered, as
a state of trial and school of virtue preparatory to a superior
state of happiness. But I hope I shall be pardoned if I attempt
to give a view in some degree different of the situation of man
on earth, which appears to me to be more consistent with the
various phenomena of nature which we observe around us and more
consonant to our ideas of the power, goodness, and foreknowledge
of the Deity.

It cannot be considered as an unimproving exercise of the
human mind to endeavour to 'vindicate the ways of God to man' if
we proceed with a proper distrust of our own understandings and a
just sense of our insufficiency to comprehend the reason of all
we see, if we hail every ray of light with gratitude, and, when
no light appears, think that the darkness is from within and not
from without, and bow with humble deference to the supreme wisdom
of him whose 'thoughts are above our thoughts' 'as the heavens
are high above the earth.'

In all our feeble attempts, however, to 'find out the
Almighty to perfection', it seems absolutely necessary that we
should reason from nature up to nature's God and not presume to
reason from God to nature. The moment we allow ourselves to ask
why some things are not otherwise, instead of endeavouring to
account for them as they are, we shall never know where to stop,
we shall be led into the grossest and most childish absurdities,
all progress in the knowledge of the ways of Providence must
necessarily be at an end, and the study will even cease to be an
improving exercise of the human mind. Infinite power is so vast
and incomprehensible an idea that the mind of man must
necessarily be bewildered in the contemplation of it. With the
crude and puerile conceptions which we sometimes form of this
attribute of the Deity, we might imagine that God could call into
being myriads and myriads of existences, all free from pain and
imperfection, all eminent in goodness and wisdom, all capable of
the highest enjoyments, and unnumbered as the points throughout
infinite space. But when from these vain and extravagant dreams
of fancy, we turn our eyes to the book of nature, where alone we
can read God as he is, we see a constant succession of sentient
beings, rising apparently from so many specks of matter, going
through a long and sometimes painful process in this world, but
many of them attaining, ere the termination of it, such high
qualities and powers as seem to indicate their fitness for some
superior state. Ought we not then to correct our crude and
puerile ideas of infinite Power from the contemplation of what we
actually see existing? Can we judge of the Creator but from his
creation? And, unless we wish to exalt the power of God at the
expense of his goodness, ought we not to conclude that even to
the great Creator, almighty as he is, a certain process may be
necessary, a certain time (or at least what appears to us as
time) may be requisite, in order to form beings with those
exalted qualities of mind which will fit them for his high

A state of trial seems to imply a previously formed existence
that does not agree with the appearance of man in infancy and
indicates something like suspicion and want of foreknowledge,
inconsistent with those ideas which we wish to cherish of the
Supreme Being. I should be inclined, therefore, as I have hinted
before, to consider the world and this life as the mighty process
of God, not for the trial, but for the creation and formation of
mind, a process necessary to awaken inert, chaotic matter into
spirit, to sublimate the dust of the earth into soul, to elicit
an ethereal spark from the clod of clay. And in this view of the
subject, the various impressions and excitements which man
receives through life may be considered as the forming hand of
his Creator, acting by general laws, and awakening his sluggish
existence, by the animating touches of the Divinity, into a
capacity of superior enjoyment. The original sin of man is the
torpor and corruption of the chaotic matter in which he may be
said to be born.

It could answer no good purpose to enter into the question
whether mind be a distinct substance from matter, or only a finer
form of it. The question is, perhaps, after all, a question
merely of words. Mind is as essentially mind, whether formed from
matter or any other substance. We know from experience that soul
and body are most intimately united, and every appearance seems
to indicate that they grow from infancy together. It would be a
supposition attended with very little probability to believe that
a complete and full formed spirit existed in every infant, but
that it was clogged and impeded in its operations during the
first twenty years of life by the weakness, or hebetude, of the
organs in which it was enclosed. As we shall all be disposed to
agree that God is the creator of mind as well as of body, and as
they both seem to be forming and unfolding themselves at the same
time, it cannot appear inconsistent either with reason or
revelation, if it appear to be consistent with phenomena of
nature, to suppose that God is constantly occupied in forming
mind out of matter and that the various impressions that man
receives through life is the process for that purpose. The
employment is surely worthy of the highest attributes of the

This view of the state of man on earth will not seem to be
unattended with probability, if, judging from the little
experience we have of the nature of mind, it shall appear upon
investigation that the phenomena around us, and the various
events of human life, seem peculiarly calculated to promote this
great end, and especially if, upon this supposition, we can
account, even to our own narrow understandings, for many of those
roughnesses and inequalities in life which querulous man too
frequently makes the subject of his complaint against the God of

The first great awakeners of the mind seem to be the wants of
the body. (It was my intention to have entered at some length
into this subject as a kind of second part to the Essay. A long
interruption, from particular business, has obliged me to lay
aside this intention, at least for the present. I shall now,
therefore, only give a sketch of a few of the leading
circumstances that appear to me to favour the general supposition
that I have advanced.) They are the first stimulants that rouse
the brain of infant man into sentient activity, and such seems to
be the sluggishness of original matter that unless by a peculiar
course of excitements other wants, equally powerful, are
generated, these stimulants seem, even afterwards, to be
necessary to continue that activity which they first awakened.
The savage would slumber for ever under his tree unless he were
roused from his torpor by the cravings of hunger or the pinchings
of cold, and the exertions that he makes to avoid these evils, by
procuring food, and building himself a covering, are the
exercises which form and keep in motion his faculties, which
otherwise would sink into listless inactivity. From all that
experience has taught us concerning the structure of the human
mind, if those stimulants to exertion which arise from the wants
of the body were removed from the mass of mankind, we have much
more reason to think that they would be sunk to the level of
brutes, from a deficiency of excitements, than that they would be
raised to the rank of philosophers by the possession of leisure.
In those countries where nature is the most redundant in
spontaneous produce the inhabitants will not be found the most
remarkable for acuteness of intellect. Necessity has been with
great truth called the mother of invention. Some of the noblest
exertions of the human mind have been set in motion by the
necessity of satisfying the wants of the body. Want has not
unfrequently given wings to the imagination of the poet, pointed
the flowing periods of the historian, and added acuteness to the
researches of the philosopher, and though there are undoubtedly
many minds at present so far improved by the various excitements
of knowledge, or of social sympathy, that they would not relapse
into listlessness if their bodily stimulants were removed, yet it
can scarcely be doubted that these stimulants could not be
withdrawn from the mass of mankind without producing a general
and fatal torpor, destructive of all the germs of future

Locke, if I recollect, says that the endeavour to avoid pain
rather than the pursuit of pleasure is the great stimulus to
action in life: and that in looking to any particular pleasure,
we shall not be roused into action in order to obtain it, till
the contemplation of it has continued so long as to amount to a
sensation of pain or uneasiness under the absence of it. To avoid
evil and to pursue good seem to be the great duty and business of
man, and this world appears to be peculiarly calculated to afford
opportunity of the most unremitted exertion of this kind, and it
is by this exertion, by these stimulants, that mind is formed. If
Locke's idea be just, and there is great reason to think that it
is, evil seems to be necessary to create exertion, and exertion
seems evidently necessary to create mind.

The necessity of food for the support of life gives rise,
probably, to a greater quantity of exertion than any other want,
bodily or mental. The Supreme Being has ordained that the earth
shall not produce good in great quantities till much preparatory
labour and ingenuity has been exercised upon its surface. There
is no conceivable connection to our comprehensions, between the
seed and the plant or tree that rises from it. The Supreme
Creator might, undoubtedly, raise up plants of all kinds, for the
use of his creatures, without the assistance of those little bits
of matter, which we call seed, or even without the assisting
labour and attention of man. The processes of ploughing and
clearing the ground, of collecting and sowing seeds, are not
surely for the assistance of God in his creation, but are made
previously necessary to the enjoyment of the blessings of life,
in order to rouse man into action, and form his mind to reason.

To furnish the most unremitted excitements of this kind, and
to urge man to further the gracious designs of Providence by the
full cultivation of the earth, it has been ordained that
population should increase much faster than food. This general
law (as it has appeared in the former parts of this Essay)
undoubtedly produces much partial evil, but a little reflection
may, perhaps, satisfy us, that it produces a great overbalance of
good. Strong excitements seem necessary to create exertion, and
to direct this exertion, and form the reasoning faculty, it seems
absolutely necessary, that the Supreme Being should act always
according to general laws. The constancy of the laws of nature,
or the certainty with which we may expect the same effects from
the same causes, is the foundation of the faculty of reason. If
in the ordinary course of things, the finger of God were
frequently visible, or to speak more correctly, if God were
frequently to change his purpose (for the finger of God is,
indeed, visible in every blade of grass that we see), a general
and fatal torpor of the human faculties would probably ensue;
even the bodily wants of mankind would cease to stimulate them to
exertion, could they not reasonably expect that if their efforts
were well directed they would be crowned with success. The
constancy of the laws of nature is the foundation of the industry
and foresight of the husbandman, the indefatigable ingenuity of
the artificer, the skilful researches of the physician and
anatomist, and the watchful observation and patient investigation
of the natural philosopher. To this constancy we owe all the
greatest and noblest efforts of intellect. To this constancy we
owe the immortal mind of a Newton.

As the reasons, therefore, for the constancy of the laws of
nature seem, even to our understandings, obvious and striking; if
we return to the principle of population and consider man as he
really is, inert, sluggish, and averse from labour, unless
compelled by necessity (and it is surely the height of folly to
talk of man, according to our crude fancies of what he might be),
we may pronounce with certainty that the world would not have
been peopled, but for the superiority of the power of population
to the means of subsistence. Strong and constantly operative as
this stimulus is on man to urge him to the cultivation of the
earth, if we still see that cultivation proceeds very slowly, we
may fairly conclude that a less stimulus would have been
insufficient. Even under the operation of this constant
excitement, savages will inhabit countries of the greatest
natural fertility for a long period before they betake themselves
to pasturage or agriculture. Had population and food increased in
the same ratio, it is probable that man might never have emerged
from the savage state. But supposing the earth once well peopled,
an Alexander, a Julius Caesar, a Tamberlane, or a bloody
revolution might irrecoverably thin the human race, and defeat
the great designs of the Creator. The ravages of a contagious
disorder would be felt for ages; and an earthquake might unpeople
a region for ever. The principle, according to which population
increases, prevents the vices of mankind, or the accidents of
nature, the partial evils arising from general laws, from
obstructing the high purpose of the creation. It keeps the
inhabitants of the earth always fully up to the level of the
means of subsistence; and is constantly acting upon man as a
powerful stumulus, urging him to the further cultivation of the
earth, and to enable it, consequently, to support a more extended
population. But it is impossible that this law can operate, and
produce the effects apparently intended by the Supreme Being,
without occasioning partial evil. Unless the principle of
population were to be altered according to the circumstances of
each separate country (which would not only be contrary to our
universal experience, with regard to the laws of nature, but
would contradict even our own reason, which sees the absolute
necessity of general laws for the formation of intellect), it is
evident that the same principle which, seconded by industry, will
people a fertile region in a few years must produce distress in
countries that have been long inhabited.

It seems, however, every way probable that even the
acknowledged difficulties occasioned by the law of population
tend rather to promote than impede the general purpose of
Providence. They excite universal exertion and contribute to that
infinite variety of situations, and consequently of impressions,
which seems upon the whole favourable to the growth of mind. It
is probable, that too great or too little excitement, extreme
poverty, or too great riches may be alike unfavourable in this
respect. The middle regions of society seem to be best suited to
intellectual improvement, but it is contrary to the analogy of
all nature to expect that the whole of society can be a middle
region. The temperate zones of the earth seem to be the most
favourable to the mental and corporal energies of man, but all
cannot be temperate zones. A world, warmed and enlightened but by
one sun, must from the laws of matter have some parts chilled by
perpetual frosts and others scorched by perpetual heats. Every
piece of matter lying on a surface must have an upper and an
under side, all the particles cannot be in the middle. The most
valuable parts of an oak, to a timber merchant, are not either
the roots or the branches, but these are absolutely necessary to
the existence of the middle part, or stem, which is the object in
request. The timber merchant could not possibly expect to make an
oak grow without roots or branches, but if he could find out a
mode of cultivation which would cause more of the substance to go
to stem, and less to root and branch, he would be right to exert
himself in bringing such a system into general use.

In the same manner, though we cannot possibly expect to
exclude riches and poverty from society, yet if we could find out
a mode of government by which the numbers in the extreme regions
would be lessened and the numbers in the middle regions
increased, it would be undoubtedly our duty to adopt it. It is
not, however, improbable that as in the oak, the roots and
branches could not be diminished very greatly without weakening
the vigorous circulation of the sap in the stem, so in society
the extreme parts could not be diminished beyond a certain degree
without lessening that animated exertion throughout the middle
parts, which is the very cause that they are the most favourable
to the growth of intellect. If no man could hope to rise or fear
to fall, in society, if industry did not bring with it its reward
and idleness its punishment, the middle parts would not certainly
be what they now are. In reasoning upon this subject, it is
evident that we ought to consider chiefly the mass of mankind and
not individual instances. There are undoubtedly many minds, and
there ought to be many, according to the chances out of so great
a mass, that, having been vivified early by a peculiar course of
excitements, would not need the constant action of narrow motives
to continue them in activity. But if we were to review the
various useful discoveries, the valuable writings, and other
laudable exertions of mankind, I believe we should find that more
were to be attributed to the narrow motives that operate upon the
many than to the apparently more enlarged motives that operate
upon the few.

Leisure is, without doubt, highly valuable to man, but taking
man as he is, the probability seems to be that in the greater
number of instances it will produce evil rather than good. It has
been not infrequently remarked that talents are more common among
younger brothers than among elder brothers, but it can scarcely
be imagined that younger brothers are, upon an average, born with
a greater original susceptibility of parts. The difference, if
there really is any observable difference, can only arise from
their different situations. Exertion and activity are in general
absolutely necessary in one case and are only optional in the

That the difficulties of life contribute to generate talents,
every day's experience must convince us. The exertions that men
find it necessary to make, in order to support themselves or
families, frequently awaken faculties that might otherwise have
lain for ever dormant, and it has been commonly remarked that new
and extraordinary situations generally create minds adequate to
grapple with the difficulties in which they are involved.


The sorrows of life necessary to soften and humanize the heart--
The excitement of social sympathy often produce characters of a
higher order than the mere possessors of talents--Moral evil
probably necessary to the production of moral excellence--
Excitements from intellectual wants continually kept up by the
infinite variety of nature, and the obscurity that involves
metaphysical subjects--The difficulties in revelation to be
accounted for upon this principle--The degree of evidence which
the scriptures contain, probably, best suited to the improvements
of the human faculties, and the moral amerlioration of mankind--
The idea that mind is created by excitements seems to account for
the existence of natural and moral evil.

The sorrows and distresses of life form another class of
excitements, which seem to be necessary, by a peculiar train of
impressions, to soften and humanize the heart, to awaken social
sympathy, to generate all the Christian virtues, and to afford
scope for the ample exertion of benevolence. The general tendency
of an uniform course of prosperity is rather to degrade than
exalt the character. The heart that has never known sorrow itself
will seldom be feelingly alive to the pains and pleasures, the
wants and wishes, of its fellow beings. It will seldom be
overflowing with that warmth of brotherly love, those kind and
amiable affections, which dignify the human character even more
than the possession of the highest talents. Talents, indeed,
though undoubtedly a very prominent and fine feature of mind, can
by no means be considered as constituting the whole of it. There
are many minds which have not been exposed to those excitements
that usually form talents, that have yet been vivified to a high
degree by the excitements of social sympathy. In every rank of
life, in the lowest as frequently as in the highest, characters
are to be found overflowing with the milk of human kindness,
breathing love towards God and man, and, though without those
peculiar powers of mind called talents, evidently holding a
higher rank in the scale of beings than many who possess them.
Evangelical charity, meekness, piety, and all that class of
virtues distinguished particularly by the name of Christian
virtues do not seem necessarily to include abilities; yet a soul
possessed of these amiable qualities, a soul awakened and
vivified by these delightful sympathies, seems to hold a nearer
commerce with the skies than mere acuteness of intellect.

The greatest talents have been frequently misapplied and have
produced evil proportionate to the extent of their powers. Both
reason and revelation seem to assure us that such minds will be
condemned to eternal death, but while on earth, these vicious
instruments performed their part in the great mass of
impressions, by the disgust and abhorrence which they excited. It
seems highly probable that moral evil is absolutely necessary to
the production of moral excellence. A being with only good placed
in view may be justly said to be impelled by a blind necessity.
The pursuit of good in this case can be no indication of virtuous
propensities. It might be said, perhaps, that infinite Wisdom
cannot want such an indication as outward action, but would
foreknow with certainly whether the being would choose good or
evil. This might be a plausible argument against a state of
trial, but will not hold against the supposition that mind in
this world is in a state of formation. Upon this idea, the being
that has seen moral evil and has felt disapprobation and disgust
at it is essentially different from the being that has seen only
good. They are pieces of clay that have received distinct
impressions: they must, therefore, necessarily be in different
shapes; or, even if we allow them both to have the same lovely
form of virtue, it must be acknowledged that one has undergone
the further process, necessary to give firmness and durability to
its substance, while the other is still exposed to injury, and
liable to be broken by every accidental impulse. An ardent love
and admiration of virtue seems to imply the existence of
something opposite to it, and it seems highly probable that the
same beauty of form and substance, the same perfection of
character, could not be generated without the impressions of
disapprobation which arise from the spectacle of moral evil.

When the mind has been awakened into activity by the
passions, and the wants of the body, intellectual wants arise;
and the desire of knowledge, and the impatience under ignorance,
form a new and important class of excitements. Every part of
nature seems peculiarly calculated to furnish stimulants to
mental exertion of this kind, and to offer inexhaustible food for
the most unremitted inquiry. Our mortal Bard says of Cleopatra:

Custom cannot stale
Her infinite variety.

The expression, when applied to any one object, may be considered
as a poetical amplification, but it is accurately true when
applied to nature. Infinite variety seems, indeed, eminently her
characteristic feature. The shades that are here and there
blended in the picture give spirit, life, and prominence to her
exuberant beauties, and those roughnesses and inequalities, those
inferior parts that support the superior, though they sometimes
offend the fastidious microscopic eye of short-sighted man,
contribute to the symmetry, grace, and fair proportion of the

The infinite variety of the forms and operations of nature,
besides tending immediately to awaken and improve the mind by the
variety of impressions that it creates, opens other fertile
sources of improvement by offering so wide and extensive a field
for investigation and research. Uniform, undiversified perfection
could not possess the same awakening powers. When we endeavour
then to contemplate the system of the universe, when we think of
the stars as the suns of other systems scattered throughout
infinite space, when we reflect that we do not probably see a
millionth part of those bright orbs that are beaming light and
life to unnumbered worlds, when our minds, unable to grasp the
immeasurable conception, sink, lost and confounded, in admiration
at the mighty incomprehensible power of the Creator, let us not
querulously complain that all climates are not equally genial,
that perpetual spring does not reign throughout the year, that it
God's creatures do not possess the same advantages, that clouds
and tempests sometimes darken the natural world and vice and
misery the moral world, and that all the works of the creation
are not formed with equal perfection. Both reason and experience
seem to indicate to us that the infinite variety of nature (and
variety cannot exist without inferior parts, or apparent
blemishes) is admirably adapted to further the high purpose of
the creation and to produce the greatest possible quantity of

The obscurity that involves all metaphysical subjects appears
to me, in the same manner, peculiarly calculated to add to that
class of excitements which arise from the thirst of knowledge. It
is probable that man, while on earth, will never be able to
attain complete satisfaction on these subjects; but this is by no
means a reason that he should not engage in them. The darkness
that surrounds these interesting topics of human curiosity may be
intended to furnish endless motives to intellectual activity and
exertion. The constant effort to dispel this darkness, even if it
fail of success, invigorates and improves the thinking faculty.
If the subjects of human inquiry were once exhausted, mind would
probably stagnate; but the infinitely diversified forms and
operations of nature, together with the endless food for
speculation which metaphysical subjects offer, prevent the
possibility that such a period should ever arrive.

It is by no means one of the wisest sayings of Solomon that
'there is no new thing under the sun.' On the contrary, it is
probable that were the present system to continue for millions of
years, continual additions would be making to the mass of human
knowledge, and yet, perhaps, it may be a matter of doubt whether
what may be called the capacity of mind be in any marked and
decided manner increasing. A Socrates, a Plato, or an Aristotle,
however confessedly inferior in knowledge to the philosophers of
the present day, do not appear to have been much below them in
intellectual capacity. Intellect rises from a speck, continues in
vigour only for a certain period, and will not perhaps admit
while on earth of above a certain number of impressions. These
impressions may, indeed, be infinitely modified, and from these
various modifications, added probably to a difference in the
susceptibility of the original germs, arise the endless diversity
of character that we see in the world; but reason and experience
seem both to assure us that the capacity of individual minds does
not increase in proportion to the mass of existing knowledge. (It
is probable that no two grains of wheat are exactly alike. Soil
undoubtedly makes the principal difference in the blades that
spring up, but probably not all. It seems natural to suppose some
sort of difference in the original germs that are afterwards
awakened into thought, and the extraordinary difference of
susceptibility in very young children seems to confirm the

The finest minds seem to be formed rather by efforts at
original thinking, by endeavours to form new combinations, and to
discover new truths, than by passively receiving the impressions
of other men's ideas. Could we suppose the period arrived, when
there was not further hope of future discoveries, and the only
employment of mind was to acquire pre-existing knowledge, without
any efforts to form new and original combinations, though the
mass of human knowledge were a thousand times greater than it is
at present, yet it is evident that one of the noblest stimulants
to mental exertion would have ceased; the finest feature of
intellect would be lost; everything allied to genius would be at
an end; and it appears to be impossible, that, under such
circumstances, any individuals could possess the same
intellectual energies as were possessed by a Locke, a Newton, or
a Shakespeare, or even by a Socrates, a Plato, an Aristotle or a

If a revelation from heaven of which no person could feel the
smallest doubt were to dispel the mists that now hang over
metaphysical subjects, were to explain the nature and structure
of mind, the affections and essences of all substances, the mode
in which the Supreme Being operates in the works of the creation,
and the whole plan and scheme of the Universe, such an accession
of knowledge so obtained, instead of giving additional vigour and
activity to the human mind, would in all probability tend to
repress future exertion and to damp the soaring wings of

For this reason I have never considered the doubts and
difficulties that involve some parts of the sacred writings as
any ardent against their divine original. The Supreme Being
might, undoubtedly, have accompanied his revelations to man by
such a succession of miracles, and of such a nature, as would
have produced universal overpowering conviction and have put an
end at once to all hesitation and discussion. But weak as our
reason is to comprehend the plans of the great Creator, it is yet
sufficiently strong to see the most striking objections to such a
revelation. From the little we know of the structure of the human
understanding, we must be convinced that an overpowering
conviction of this kind, instead of tending to the improvement
and moral amelioration of man, would act like the touch of a
torpedo on all intellectual exertion and would almost put an end
to the existence of virtue. If the scriptural denunciations of
eternal punishment were brought home with the same certainty to
every man's mind as that the night will follow the day, this one
vast and gloomy idea would take such full possession of the human
faculties as to leave no room for any other conceptions, the
external actions of men would be all nearly alike, virtuous
conduct would be no indication of virtuous disposition, vice and
virtue would be blended together in one common mass, and though
the all-seeing eye of God might distinguish them they must
necessarily make the same impressions on man, who can judge only
from external appearances. Under such a dispensation, it is
difficult to conceive how human beings could be formed to a
detestation of moral evil, and a love and admiration of God, and
of moral excellence.

Our ideas of virtue and vice are not, perhaps, very accurate
and well-defined; but few, I think, would call an action really
virtuous which was performed simply and solely from the dread of
a very great punishment or the expectation of a very great
reward. The fear of the Lord is very justly said to be the
beginning of wisdom, but the end of wisdom is the love of the
Lord and the admiration of moral good. The denunciations of
future punishment contained in the scriptures seem to be well
calculated to arrest the progress of the vicious and awaken the
attention of the careless, but we see from repeated experience
that they are not accompanied with evidence of such a nature as
to overpower the human will and to make men lead virtuous lives
with vicious dispositions, merely from a dread of hereafter. A
genuine faith, by which I mean a faith that shews itself in it
the virtues of a truly Christian life, may generally be
considered as an indication of an amiable and virtuous
disposition, operated upon more by love than by pure unmixed

When we reflect on the temptations to which man must
necessarily be exposed in this world, from the structure of his
frame, and the operation of the laws of nature, and the
consequent moral certainty that many vessels will come out of
this mighty creative furnace in wrong shapes, it is perfectly
impossible to conceive that any of these creatures of God's hand
can be condemned to eternal suffering. Could we once admit such
an idea, it our natural conceptions of goodness and justice would
be completely overthrown, and we could no longer look up to God
as a merciful and righteous Being. But the doctrine of life and
Mortality which was brought to light by the gospel, the doctrine
that the end of righteousness is everlasting life, but that the
wages of sin are death, is in every respect just and merciful,
and worthy of the great Creator. Nothing can appear more
consonant to our reason than that those beings which come out of
the creative process of the world in lovely and beautiful forms
should be crowned with immortality, while those which come out
misshapen, those whose minds are not suited to a purer and
happier state of existence, should perish and be condemned to mix
again with their original clay. Eternal condemnation of this kind
may be considered as a species of eternal punishment, and it is
not wonderful that it should be represented, sometimes, under
images of suffering. But life and death, salvation and
destruction, are more frequently opposed to each other in the New
Testament than happiness and misery. The Supreme Being would
appear to us in a very different view if we were to consider him
as pursuing the creatures that had offended him with eternal hate
and torture, instead of merely condemning to their original
insensibility those beings that, by the operation of general
laws, had not been formed with qualities suited to a purer state
of happiness.

Life is, generally speaking, a blessing independent of a
future state. It is a gift which the vicious would not always be
ready to throw away, even if they had no fear of death. The
partial pain, therefore, that is inflicted by the supreme
Creator, while he is forming numberless beings to a capacity of
the highest enjoyments, is but as the dust of the balance in
comparison of the happiness that is communicated, and we have
every reason to think that there is no more evil in the world
than what is absolutely necessary as one of the ingredients in
the mighty process.

The striking necessity of general laws for the formation of
intellect will not in any respect be contradicted by one or two
exceptions, and these evidently not intended for partial
purposes, but calculated to operate upon a great part of mankind,
and through many ages. Upon the idea that I have given of the
formation of mind, the infringement of the general law of nature,
by a divine revelation, will appear in the light of the immediate
hand of God mixing new ingredients in the mighty mass, suited to
the particular state of the process, and calculated to give rise
to a new and powerful train of impressions, tending to purify,
exalt, and improve the human mind. The miracles that accompanied
these revelations when they had once excited the attention of
mankind, and rendered it a matter of most interesting discussion,
whether the doctrine was from God or man, had performed their
part, had answered the purpose of the Creator, and these
communications of the divine will were afterwards left to make
their way by their own intrinsic excellence; and, by operating as
moral motives, gradually to influence and improve, and not to
overpower and stagnate the faculties of man.

It would be, undoubtedly, presumptuous to say that the
Supreme Being could not possibly have effected his purpose in any
other way than that which he has chosen, but as the revelation of
the divine will which we possess is attended with some doubts and
difficulties, and as our reason points out to us the strongest
objections to a revelation which would force immediate, implicit,
universal belief, we have surely just cause to think that these
doubts and difficulties are no argument against the divine origin
of the scriptures, and that the species of evidence which they
possess is best suited to the improvement of the human faculties
and the moral amelioration of mankind.

The idea that the impressions and excitements of this world
are the instruments with which the Supreme Being forms matter
into mind, and that the necessity of constant exertion to avoid
evil and to pursue good is the principal spring of these
impressions and excitements, seems to smooth many of the
difficulties that occur in a contemplation of human life, and
appears to me to give a satisfactory reason for the existence of
natural and moral evil, and, consequently, for that part of both,
and it certainly is not a very small part, which arises from the
principle of population. But, though, upon this supposition, it
seems highly improbable that evil should ever be removed from the
world; yet it is evident that this impression would not answer
the apparent purpose of the Creator; it would not act so
powerfully as an excitement to exertion, if the quantity of it
did not diminish or increase with the activity or the indolence
of man. The continual variations in the weight and in the
distribution of this pressure keep alive a constant expectation
of throwing it off.

"Hope springs eternal in the Human breast,
Man never is, but always to be blest."

Evil exists in the world not to create despair but activity.
We are not patiently to submit to it, but to exert ourselves to
avoid it. It is not only the interest but the duty of every
individual to use his utmost efforts to remove evil from himself
and from as large a circle as he can influence, and the more he
exercises himself in this duty, the more wisely he directs his
efforts, and the more successful these efforts are; the more he
will probably improve and exalt his own mind, and the more
completely does he appear to fulfil the will of his Creator.

End of the Project Gutenberg Etext of An Essay on the Principle of Population
by Thomas Malthus